Skip to main content

Full text of "I and Thou"

See other formats

h i: B E P 







Edinburgh: T. & T. CLARK, 38 George Street 


This work in its original, German form lias already, 
since its publication fourteen years ago, exercised on 
the Continent an influence, quite out of proportion to 
its slender size. In view of this influence alone it may 
be affirmed that I and Thou will rank as one of the 
epoch-making books of our generation. It has hitherto 
been comparatively unknown among English-speaking 
students of philosophy and theology. 

I and Thou is to be understood in the context of 
Buber's previous intensive study, chiefly of Jewish 
mystical writings. It is not an isolated phenomenon 
among his works, but represents the culmination of 
the intensely religious interest that characterises them 
all. It is, indeed, philosophical; but it is not an 
academic work of discursive philosophy. It is mystical, 
but it belongs to what Pringle-Pattison has termed the 
"higher Mysticism" of real communion with God, as 
distinguished from the debased < mysticism that sub- 
stitutes for the real present world a world of illusory 
delights, where " absorption " in the Diym^ is experi- 
enced. The decrying of mysticism as a whole, fashion- 
able to-day among Protestant writers, has a weighty 
retort in the present work. For an indubitably real 
mystical experience is here set forth, not with contempt 

for the means of human expression but with finished and 
delicate power. For this reason, though we might call 
I and Thou a " philosophical-religious poem ", it belongs 
essentially to no single specialised class of learned 
work. It has a direct appeal to all those who are 
interested in living religious experience rather than in 
theological debates and the rise and fall of philosophical 
schools. It has first and foremost to be judged on its 
intrinsic merits — by the impact, that is to say, which it 
makes on our actual, responsible life, as persons and as 
groups, in the modern world. 

This immediate value of Buber's work becomes clear 
if we consider its main thesis. There is, Buber shows, 
a radical difference between a man's attitude to other 
men and his attitude to things. The attitude to other 
men is a relation between persons, to things it is a 
connexion with objects. In the personal relation one 
subject — I — confronts another subject — Thou 1 ; in 
the connexion with things the subject contemplates and 
experiences an object. These two attitudes represent 
the basic twofold situation of human life, the former 
constituting the. " world of Thou ", and the latter the 
"world of I*" 

The content and relation of these two worlds is the 
theme of 1 and Thou. The other person, the Thou 9 is 
shown to be a reality — that is, it is given to me, but it is 
not bounded by me: " Thou has no bounds " ; the 

1 Though the second person singular pronoun has almost dis- 
appeared from modern English usage, it remains in one important 
Bphere — in prayer. By its retention in the English text, therefore, 
far from suggesting an obscure situation, it keeps the whole thought 
iii the personal and responsible sphere in which alone it is truly to be 


Thou cannot be appropriated, but I am brought up 
short against it. The characteristic situation is here 
one of meeting : I meet the Other. In the reality of 
this meeting no reduction of the / or of the Thou, 
to experiencing subject and experienced object, is 
possible. So long as I remain in relation with my 
Thou, I cannot experience it, but can only know it 
in the relation itself. " In the act of experience Thou 
is far away." 

The world of objects or things, on the other hand, 
presupposes a single centre of consciousness, one subject, 
an I which experiences, arranges, and appropriates. 
This is the characteristic world of modern activity; 
in it the scientist and the statesman and the economist 
carry on their particular work. In it, too, men seek 
to understand their relation with other men. Indeed, 
it is true that even when a Thou is truly confronted it 
becomes an It. Nevertheless, to speak of and to act 
towards another person as if his reality consisted in 
his being simply a He, that is, an It, is disloyalty to 
the truth of the meeting with the Thou. 

There is, however, one Thou which never becomes an 
It, the " eternal Thou ", God. Though we may speak 
of God in the third person, the reality of His approach 
is constituted in the fulness of the relation of an / with a 
Thou. In truth, God may only be " addressed, not 

Put in another way, this primary distinction between 
the two orders in which men live concerns on the one 
hand the meaning of community, and on the other hand 
the meaning of organisation. Community consists in 
the relation of persons, organisation in the connexion 


between things. It is Buber's signal achievement to 
have so expressed the nature of the personal that it 
may now reclaim its right to be taken seriously. 

In the first place, this right affects our understanding 
of the characteristic modern organisations of politics 
and industry. J. H. Oldham, in his pamphlet, Chwch, 
Community, and State, shows clearly that the reality of 
our status as persons, living in mutual personal relation, 
is a controlling factor distinct from our "rights as 
individuals" and our inherited racial and cultural 
gifts. This basic recognition on the part of one of the 
leaders of the oecumenical Church movement shows 
the explicit influence of Buber's thought in the sphere 
of " practical " Christianity. 

In the second place, this new awareness has had far- 
reaching effects on philosophical thought. Hitherto, 
what we have known about the mutual relation o\ 
persons has been relegated in theories of knowledge tc 
a position subordinate to the contemplation of the on< 
subject. The investigation was conducted within ai 
impersonal system, a continuum regulated by the lawi 
of cause and effect. The relation of the one observing 
subject to the other observing subjects within the same 
closed system was not seriously considered. Buber has 
given intellectual status to the problem of the relation 
between persons, and has thus called in doubt the 
massive monistic system within which idealist philosophy 
has worked. 

The direct influence of Buber on philosophical thought 
is nowhere more clearly shown than in the work oi 
Professor Karl Heim. His book, Glaube und Denken 
the third edition of which has already appeared ii 


English under the title God Transcendent, shows, espe- 
cially in the earlier German editions, that his investi- 
gation of the problem of transcendence lies under an 
almost incalculable obligation to Buber's work. I and 
Thou is the treasure-house from which the philosopher 
selects the gems specially valuable for himself. Thus 
Heim's development of the idea of " dimensions " to 
express the difference between the " J — It experience " 
and the " I — Thou relation " is a reflective analysis of 
Buber's main thesis that " to man the world is twofold, 
in accordance with his twofold nature". With Heim's 
impressive systematic elaboration of this thought it may 
be said that the old monistic way of thinking has given 
way before the pressure of a new conviction. 

In dogmatic theology, too, the same new tendencies 
are at work. Objects are in the past, but the relation of 
the I to the Thou is in the present. Theology, with its 
fresh insight into the significance of the present moment, 
is gaining in consequence a new understanding of the 
essentially personal nature of God's relation to men and 
of men's relation to one another. Theology has taken 
on a new note of crisis, and is rediscovering the necessity 
for decision, for a responsible response to the claim 
made updn us, not in the dead past or the imagined 
future but now, by the living God. What Buber has 
done is to state in classic form the nature of the claim 
made upon us by the "transcendent". It would 
seem, indeed, as if the full reality indicated by Buber 
has yet to be appreciated by dogmatic theologians. 
For faith is a meeting : it is not a trust in the world of 
It, of creeds or other forms, which are objects, and have 
their life in the past ; nor is it, on the other hand, a 


reliance on the " wholly other " God ; but it is the 
meeting with the eternal Thou Who is both the Other 
and the Present One. If we stress God's distance from 
men by asserting His Otherness alone, and do not 
realise at the same time the truth of His Presence in the 
relation of the Thou to the Z, we are bound in the end 
to reduce the idea of Transcendence itself to a sub- 
human situation, and to take refuge in a paradox, 
which is not the ultimate paradox, of the impassa- 
bility of the gulf between God and men. 

Buber's assertion of the present moment as the real 
time for faith distinguishes it from the Moment ol 
Eberhard Grisebach, with whose book Gegenwart, eint 
Kritische Ethik (1928), I and Thou has sometimes beea 
compared. For though Grisebach has undoubtedly 
found Buber's distinctive terminology highly significant 
for his own inquiry, we do not find in him Buber's pre- 
suppositions of the given" Thou — " the a priori oi 
relation, the inborn Thou " — and the eternal Thou 
which not only gives, guarantees, the human Thou U 
us, but also directly addresses us. Buber's time L 
"filled time", his moment a religious moment, and his 
thought is rooted in the concrete situation of religious 

This sketch of the manifold influence of Buber's 
thought may be concluded with a reference to the work 
of Dr. Friedrich Gogarten. In his Ich Olaube an den 
dreieinigen Gott (I believe in the Triune God) he attempts 
an investigation of the relation of faith to history. 
The controlling affirmation of his thesis is the reality 
of our consciousness of other selves : history for him is 
constituted where two persons meet. Applying this 

thought to the modern theory of history as a process 
within an unbroken causal system, where facts are to 
be demonstrated in the light of controlling " eternal " 
values or "..interpretations " of reality, he demonstrates 
convincingly the inadequacy of its abstract presup- 
positions about reality. The concrete reality, for him, 
as for Buber, is the situation where responsible persons 
confront one another in living mutual relation. 

Though the influence of Buber is thus manifest in 
every fundamental sphere of human activity, it is 
possible to perceive both anticipatory and parallel 
influences at work. Already in the middle of the 
nineteenth century Soren Kierkegaard, in his attack 
on the reigning Hegelian philosophy, had shown the 
limits of thought along the old lines. And in 1921 
Ferdinand Ebner published a little book, Das Wort und 
die Geistigen Realitdten {The Word and Spiritual 
Realities), where the understanding of Kierkegaard is 
no less remarkable than the parallels of thought with 
Buber. But the incisiveness and penetration of Buber's 
thought/ is lacking in Ebner's chaotic and fragmentary 
utterances. Ebner is content to affirm and reaffirm his 
conviction that in the relation between one per3on and 
another there is a unique spiritual reality. 

Though few of the works we have noted have yet been 
translated into English, there can be little doubt that 
the trend of thought in England will be along the same 
or similar lines. Already, indeed, in independence, I 
believe, from continental writers, Professor John 
Macmurray has developed the thesis of the ultimate 
reality of personal relations in its application to theories 
of the State, of marriage, of family life, and of economics. 


But the pioneer work of Buber mil in any event remain 

The inadequacy of a translation to do more than hint 

at the power of the original is specially noticeable with 

a poetical *work of this kind. Footnotes might have 

helped to explain a word or two, or indicate nuances of 

the German which the English has lost ; but, though 

the word might have been explained, the impact .of the 

argument would have been dissipated rather than 

strengthened. The text stands therefore without any 

commentary. To the reader who finds the meaning 

obscure at a first reading we may only say that I and 

Thou is indeed a -poem. Hence it must be read more 

than once, and its. total effect allowed to work on the' 

mind ; the obscurities of one part (so far as they are 

real obscurities, and not the effect, as they must often 

be, of poor translation) will then be illumined by the 

brightness of another part. For the argument is not 

as it were horizontal, but spiral ;• it mounts, and gathers 

within itself the aphoristic and pregnant utterances of 

the earlier part. 

I have to thank many friends and helpers for advice 
given at various points, in particular Frau Dr. Elisabeth 
Botten, of Saanen, Switzerland, who repaired a little 
of the havoc I wrought at points with the original text, 
and most of all Dr. Buber himself, whose courteous and 
encouraging help lightened my task considerably. 

B. G. S. 
February 1937. 

So, waiting, I have won from you the end: 
God's presence in each element. 




To man the world is twofold, in accordance with, his 
twofold attitude. 

The attitude of man is twofold, in accordance with 
the twofold nature of the primary words which he speaks. 

The primary words are not isolated words, but 
combined words. 

The one primary word is the combination I-Thou. 

The other primary word is the combination I-It; 
wherein, without a change in the primary word, one 
of the words He and She can replace It. 

Hence the I of ipan is also twofold. 

For the I of the primary word I-Thou is a different 
I from that of the primary word I-It. 

Primary words do not signify things, but they intimate 

Primary words do not describe something that 
might exist independently of them, but being spoken 
they bring about existence. 

Primary words are spoken from the being. 

If Thou is said, the I of the combination I-Thou is 
said along with it. 

If It is said, the I of the combination I-It is said along 
with it. 

The primary word I-Thou can only be spoken with 
the whole being. 

The primary word I-It can never be spoken with the 
whole being. 


There is no I taken in itself, but only the I of the 
primary word I-Thou and the I of the primary word 

When a man says I he refers to one or other of these. 
The I to which he refers is present when he says L 
Further, when he says Thou or It, the I of one of the 
two primary words is present. 

The existence of I and the speaking of I are one and the 
same thing. 

When a primary word is spoken the speaker enters 
the word and takes his stand in it. 

The life of human beings is not passed in the sphere 
of transitive verbs alone. It does not exist in virtue 
of activities alone which have some thing for their 

I perceive something. I am sensible of something. 
I imagine something. I will something. I feel some- 
thing. I think something. The life of human beings 
does not consist of all this and the like alone. 

This and the like together establish the realm of It. 

But the realm of Thou has a different basis. 

When Thou is spoken, the speaker has no thing for 
his object. For where there is a thing there is another 
thing. Every It is bounded by others ; It exists only 
through being bounded by others. But when Thou is 
spoken, there is no thing. Thou has no bounds. 

When Thou is spoken, the speaker has no thing ; he 
has indeed nothing. But he takes his stand in relation. 


It is said that man experiences his world. What 
does that mean ? 

Man travels over the surface of things and experiences 
them. He extracts knowledge about their constitution 
from them : he wins an experience from them. He 
experiences what belongs to the things. 

But the world is not presented to man by experiences 
alone. These present him only with a world composed 
of It and He and She and It again. 

I experience something. — If we add "inner" to 
" outer " experiences, nothing in the situation is changed. 
We are merely following the uneternal division that 
springs from the lust of the human race to whittle 
away the secret of death. Inner things or outer things, 
what wre they but things and things ! 

I experience something. — If we add "secret" to 
'* open" experiences, nothing in the situation is changed. 
How self-confident is that wisdom which perceives a 
closed compartment in things, reserved for the initiate 
and manipulated only with the key. secrecy without 
a secret ! accumulation of information ! It, always It ! 

The man who experiences has no part/ in the world. 
For it is " in him " and not between him and the world 
that the experience arises. 

The world has no part in the experience. It permits 
itself to be experienced, but has no concern in the matter. 
For it does nothing to the experience, and the experience 
does nothing to it. 


As experience, the world belongs to the primary 
word I-It. 

The primary word l-Thou establishes the world of 


The spheres in which the world of relation arises are 

First, our life with nature. There the relation sways 
in gloom, beneath the level of speech. Creatures live 
and move over against us, but cannot come to us, 
and when we address them as Thou, our words cling to 
the threshold of speech. 

Second, our life with men. There the relation is 
open and in the form of speech. We can give and accept" 
the Thou, 

Third, our life with intelligible forms. There the 
relation is clouded, yet it discloses itself; it does not 
use speech, yet begets it. We perceive no Thou, but none 
tbe less we feel we are addressed and we answer- 
forming, thinking, acting. We speak the primary word 
with our being, though we cannot utter Thou with our 

But with what right do we draw what lies outside 
speech into relation with the world of the primary word ? 
In every sphere in its own way, through each process 
of becoming that is present to us we look out toward 
the fringe of the eternal Thou ; in each we are aware 
of a breath from the eternal Thou ; in each Thou vir* 
address the eternal Thou. 


I consider a tree. 

I can look on it as a picture : stiff column in a shock 
of light, or splash, of green shot with the delicate blue 
and silver of the background. 

I can perceive it as movement : flowing veins on 
clinging, pressing pith, suck of the roots, breathing 
of the leaves, ceaseless commerce with earth and air — 
and the obscure growth itself. 

I can classify it in a species and study it as a type 
in its structure and mode of life. 

I can subdue its actual presence and form so sternly 
that I recognise it only as an expression of law — of 
the laws in accordance^ with which a constant opposition 
of forces is continually adjusted, or of those in accord- 
ance with which the component substances mingle and 

I can dissipate it and perpetuate it in number, in 
pure numerical relation. 

In aH this the tree remains my object, occupies space 
and time, and has its nature and constitution. 

It can, however, also come about, if I have both will 
and grace, that in considering the tree I become bound 
up in relation to it. The tree is now no longer It I 
have been seized by the power of exclusiveness. 

To effect this it is not necessary for me to give up 
any of the ways in which I consider the tree. There is 
nothing from which I would have to turn my eyes away 
in order to see, and .no knowledge that I would have 
to forget. Rather is everything, picture and movement, 
species and type, law and number, indivisibly united 
in this event. 

Everything belonging to the tree is in this : its form 


and structure, its colours and chemical composition, 
its intercourse with the elements and with the stars, 
are all present in a single whole. 

The tree is no impression, no play of my imagination, 
no value depending on my mood ; but it is bodied over 
against me and has to do with me, as I with it — only in 
a different way. 

Let no attempt be made to sap the strength from 
the meaning of the relation : relation is mutual. 

The tree will have a consciousness, then, similar to 
our own % Of that I have no experience. But do you 
wish, through seeming to succeed in it with yourself, once 
again to disintegrate that which cannot be disintegrated % 
I encounter no soul or dryad of the tree, but the tree 

If I face a human being as my Thou, and say the 
primary word I-Thou to him, he is not a thing among 
things, and does not consist of things. 

This human being is not He or She, bounded from 
every other He and She, a specific point in space and 
time within the net of the world ; nor is he a nature 
able to be experienced and described, a loose bundle of 
named qualities. But with no neighbour, and whole 
in himself, he is Thou and fills the heavens. This 
-does not mean that nothing exists except himself. 
But all else lives in his light. 

Just as the melody is not made up of notes nor the 
verse of words nor the statue of lines, but they must be 
tugged and dragged till their unity has been scattered 
into these many pieces, so with the man to whom I 


say Thou. I can take out from Mm the colour of his 
hair, or of his speech, or of his goodness* I must 
continually do this, But each time I do it he ceases to 
be Thou. 

And just as prayer is not in time but time in prayer, 
sacrifice not in space but space in sacrifice, and to reverse 
the relation is to abolish the reality, so with the m$n to 
whom I say Thou. I do not meet with him at some time 
and place or other. I can set him in a particular time 
and place ; I must continually do it : but I set only a 
He or a She, that is an It, no longer my Thou. 

So long as the heaven of Thou is spread out over me 
the winds of causality cower at my heels, and the 
whirlpool of fate stays its course. 

I do not experience the man to whom I say Thou. 
But I take my stand in relation to him, in the sanctity 
of the primary word. Only when I step out of it do 
I experience him once more. In ihe act of experience 
Thou is far away. 

Even if the man to whom I say Thou is not aware of 
it in the midst of his experience, yet relation may exist. 
For Thou is more than It realises. No deception 
penetrates here ; here is the cradle of the Real Life. 

This is the eternal source of art : a man is faced 
by a form which desires to be made through him into 
a work. This form is no offspring of his soul, but is 
an appearance which steps up to it and demands of it 
the effective power. The man is concerned with an act 
of his being. If he carries it -through, if he speaks the 
primary word out of his being to the form which 


appears, then the effective power streams out, and the 
work arises. 

The act includes a sacrifice and a risk. This is the 
sacrifice : the endless possibility that is offered up on 
the altar of the form. For everything which just this 
moment in play ran through the perspective must he 
obliterated ; nothing of that may penetrate the work 
The exclusiveness of what is facing it demands that it 
be so. This is the risk : the primary word can only he' 
spoken with the whole being. He who gives himself to 
it may withhold nothing of himself. The work does 
not suffer me, as do the tree and the man, to turn 
aside and relax in the world of It ; but it commands. If 
I do not serve it aright it is broken, or it breakB me, 

I can neither experience nor describe the form which 
meets me, but only forth. And yet I behold 
it, splendid in the radiance of what confronts me, clearer 
than all the clearness of the world which is experienced. 
I do not behold it as a thing among the " inner " things 
nor as an image of my " fancy/' but as that which exists 
in the present. If test is made of its objectivity the 
form is certainly not " there." Yet what is actually 
so much present as it is % Aod the relation in which 
I stand to it is real, for it affects me, as I affect it. 

To produce is to draw forth, to invent is to find, 
to shape is to discover. In bodying forth I disclose. 
I lead the form across — into the world of It. The 
work produced is a thing among things, able to be ex- 
perienced and described as a sum of qualities. But from 
time to time it can face the receptive beholder in its 
whole embodied form. 


— What, then, do we experience of Thou k 
— Just nothing. For we do not experience it. 
— What, then, do we know of Thou ? 
— Just everything. For we know nothing isolated 
about it any more. 


The Thou meets me through grace — it is not found 
by seeking. But my speaking of the primary word to 
it is an act of my being, is indeed the act of my being. 

The Thou meets me. But I step into direct relation 
with it. Hence the relation means being chosen and 
choosing, suffering and action in one ; just as any action 
of the whole being, which means the suspension of all 
partial actions and consequently of all sensations of 
if actions grounded only in their particular limitation, is 
bound to resemble suffering. 

The primary word I-Thou can be spoken only with 
the whole being. Concentration and fusion into the 
whole being can never take place through my agency, 
nor can it ever take place without me. I become 
through, my relation to the Thou ; as I become /, I say 

All real living is meeting. 

The relation to the Thou is direct. No system of ideas, 
no foreknowledge, and no fancy intervene between / 
and Thou. The memory itself is transformed, as it 
plunges out of its isolation into the unity of the whole. 
No aim, no lust, and no anticipation intervene between 
I and Thou. Desire itself is transformed as it plunges 


out of its dream into the appearance. Every means 
is an obstacle. Only when every means has collapsed 
does the meeting come about. 

In face of the directness of the relation everything 
indirect becomes irrelevant. It is also irrelevant if 
my Thou is already the It for other Fs (" an object of 
general experience "), or can become so through the 
very accomplishment of this act of my being- For the 
real, though certainly swaying and swinging, boundary 
runs neither between experience and non-experience* 
nor between what is given and what is not given, 
nor yet between the world of being and the world of 
value ; but cutting indifferently across all these provinces 
it lies between Thou and It, between the present and 
the object. 


The present, and by that is meant not the point which 
indicates from time to time in our thought merely the 
conclusion of <( finished " time, the mere appearance of 
a termination which is fixed and held, but the real, filled 
present, exists only in so far as actual presentness, 
meeting, and relation exist. The present arises only 
in virtue of the fact that the Thou becomes present. 

The / of the primary word I-It, that is, the / faced by 
no Thou, but surrounded by a multitude of "contents," 
has no present, only the past. Put in another way, 
in so far as man rests satisfied with the things that 
he experiences and uses, he lives in the past, and his 
moment has no present content* He has nothing 


but objects. But objects subsist in time that has 

The present is not fugitive and transient, but continu- 
ally present and enduring. The object is not duration, 
but cessation, suspension, a breaking off and cutting 
clear and hardening, absence of relation and of present 

True beings are lived in the present, the life of objects 
is in the past. 


Appeal to a " world of ideas " as a third factor above 
this opposition will not* do away with its essential 
twofold nature. For I speak of nothing else but the 
real man, of you and of me, of our life and of our world 
— not of an 7, or a state of being, in itself alone. The 
real boundary for the actual man cuts right across 
the world of ideas as well. 

To be sure, many a man who is satisfied with the 
experience and use of the world of thing? has raised 
over y ^ bout himself a structure of ideas, in which he 
finds refuge and repose from the oncome of nothingness. 
On the threshold he lays aside his inauspicious everyday 
dress, wraps himself in pure linen, and regales himself 
with the spectacle of primal being, or of necessary being ; 
but his life has no part in it. To proclaim his ways may 
even fill him with well-being. 

But the mankind of mere It that is imagined, 
postulated, and propagated by such a man has nothing 
in common with a living mankind where Thou may 
truly be spoken. The noblest fiction is a fetish, the 
loftiest fictitious sentiment is depraved. Ideas are no 


more enthroned above our heads than Resident in them ; 
they wander amongst us- and accost us. The man who 
leaves the primary word unspoken is to be pitied ; but 
the man who addresses instead these ideas with an 
abstraction or a password, as if it were their name, is 
contemptible. » 


In one of the three examples it is obvious that the 
direct relation includes an effect on what confronts me. 
In art the act of the being determines the situation in 
which the form becomes the work. Through the meet- 
ing that which confronts me is fulfilled, and enters the 
world of things, there to be endlessly active, endlessly 
to become It, but also endlessly to become Thou again, 
inspiring and blessing. It is " embodied " ; its body 
emerges from the flow of the spaceless/ timeless present 
on the shore of existence. 

The significance of the effect is not so obvious in 
the relation with the Thou spoken to men. The act 
of the being which provides directness in this case is 
usually understood wrongly as being one of feeling. 
Feelings accompany the metaphysical and metapsychical 
fact of love, but they do not constitute it. The accom- 
panying feelings can be of greatly differing kinds. The 
feeling of Jesus for the demoniac differs from his feeling 
for the beloved disciple ; but the love is the one love- 
Feelings are "entertained" : love comes to pass- 
Feelings dwell in man; but man dwells in hia love* 
That is no metaphor, but the actual truth* Love does 
not cling to the J in such a way as to have the Thou 

only for its " content," its object ; but love is between 


I and Thou. The man who does not know this, with 
his very being know this, does not know love ; even 
though he ascribes to it the feelings he lives through, 
experiences, enjoys, and expresses. Love ranges in its 
effect,, through the whole world. In the eyes of him 
who takes his stand in love, and gazes out of it, men are 
cut free from their entanglement in bustling activity. 
Good people and evil, wise and foolish, beautiful and 
ugly, become successively real to him ; that is, set free 
they step forth in their singleness, and confront him as 
Thou. In a wonderful way, from time to time, ex- 
clusiveness arises — and -so he can be effective, helping, 
healing, educating, raising up, saving. Love is responsi- 
bility of an I for a Thou. In this lies the likeness — 
impossible in any feeling whatsoever — of all who love, 
from the smallest to the greatest and from the blessedly 
protected man, whose life is rounded in that of a loved 
being, to him* who is all his life nailed to the cross of 
the world, and who ventures to bring himself to the 
dreadful point — to love all men. 

Let the significance of the effect in the third example, 
that of the creature and our contemplation of it, remain 
sunk in mystery. Believe in the simple magic of life, 
in service in the universe, and the meaning of that 
waiting, that alertness, that " craning of the neck " in 
creatures will dawn upon you. Every word would 
falsify ; but look ! round about you beings live their life, 
and to whatever point you turn you comeupon being. 

Relation is mutual. My Thou attects me, as I 
affect it. We are moulded by our pupils and built 


up by our works. The "bad" man, lightly 
touched by the holy primary word, becomes one 
who reveals. How we are educated by children 
and by animals ! We live our lives inscrutably 
included within the streaming mutual life of the 

— You speak of love as though it were the only re- 
lation between men. But properly speaking, can you 
take it even only as an example, since there is such a 
thing as hate ? 

—So long as love is " blind," that is, so long as it does 
not see a whole being, it is not truly under the sway 
of the primary word of relation. Hate is by nature 
blind. Only a part of a being can be hated. He who 
sees a whole being and is compelled to reject it is no 
longer in the kingdom of hate, but is in that of human 
restriction of the power to say Thou. He finds himself 
unable to say the primary word to the other human 
being confronting him. This word consistently in- 
volves an affirmation of the being addressed. He is 
therefore compelled to reject either the other or himself. 
At this barrier the entering on a relation recognises its 
relativity, and only simultaneously with this will the 
barrier be raised. 

Yet the man who straightforwardly hates is nearer 
to relation than the man without hate and love. 

But this is the exalted melancholy of our fate, that 
every Thou in our world must become an It It does 


not matter how exclusively present the Thou was in 
the direct relation. As soon as the relation has been 
worked out or has been permeated with a means, the 
Thou becomes an object among objects — perhaps the 
chief, but still one of them, fixed in its size and its 
limits. In the work of art realisation in one sense 
means loss of reality in another. Genuine contempla- 
tion is over in a short time ; now the life in nature, 
that first unlocked itself to me in the mystery of mutual 
action, can again be described, taken to pieces, and 
classified — the meeting-point of manifold systems of 
laws. And love itself cannot persist in direct relation. 
It endures, but in interchange of actual and potential 
being. The human being who was even now single and 
unconditioned, not something lying to hand, only 
present, not able to be experienced, only a*ble to be 
fulfilled, has now become again a H e or a She, a sum of 
qualities, a given quantity with a certain shape. Now 
I may take out from him again the colour of his hair 
or of his speech or of his goodness. But so long as I can 
do this he is no more my Thou and cannot yet be my 
Thou again. 

Every Thou in the world is by its nature fated to 
become a thing, or continually to re-enter into the 
condition of things. In objective speech it would be 
said that every thing in the world, either before or after 
becoming a thing, is able to appear to an I as its Thou. 
But objective speech snatches only at a fringe of real 
life. . 

The It is the eternal chrysalis, the Thou the. 
eternal butterfly — except that situations do not always 
follow one another in clear succession, but often 
c 17 

there is a happening profoundly twofold, confusedly 



In the beginning is relation. 

Consider the speech of "primitive" peoples, that is, 
of those that have a meagre stock of objects, and whose 
life is built up within a narrow circle of acts highly 
charged with presentness. The nuclei of this speech, 
words in the form of sentences and original pre-gram- 
matical structures (which later, splitting asunder, give 
rise to the many various kinds of words), mostly indicate 
the wholeness of a relation. We say " far away " ; the 
Zulu has for that a word which means, in our sentence 
form, " There where someone cries out : ' O mother, 
I am lost.' " The Fuegian soars above our analytic 
wisdom with a seven - syllabled word whose precise 
meaning is, " They stare at one another, each waiting 
for the other to volunteer to do what both wish, but 
are not able to do." In this total situation the persons, 
as expressed both in nouns and pronouns, are embedded, 
still only in relief and without finished independence. 
The chief concern is not with these products of analysis 
and reflection but with the true original unity, the lived 

We greet the* ti&an we meet, wishing him well or 
assuring him of our devotion or commending him to God* 
But how indirect these worn-out formulas are f What 
do we discern even dimly in " Hail ! " of the original 
conferring of power ? Compare these with the ever 
fresh Kaffir greeting, with its direct bodily relation, 
" I see you ! " or with its ridiculous and sublime 
American variant, " Smell me ! " 


It may be supposed that characterisations and ideas, 
but also representations of persons and things, have 
been taken out from representations of incidents and 
situations that are specifically relational. The elementary 
impressions and emotional stirrings that waken the 
spirit of the " natural man " proceed from incidents — ex- 
perience of a being confronting him — and from situations 
— life with a being confronting hi™ — that are relational 
in character. He is not disquieted by the moon that 
he sees every night, till it comes bodily to him, sleeping 
or waking, draws near and charms him with .silent 
movements, or fascinates hinj with the evil or sweetness 
of its touch. He does not retain from this the visual 
representation, say, of the wandering orb of light, or 
of a demonic being that somehow belongs to it, but 
at first he has in him only the dynamic, stirring 
image of the moon's effect, streaming through his body. 
Out of this the image of the moon personally achieving 
the effect only gradually emerges. Only now, that is 
to say, does the memory of the unknown that is nightly 
taken into his being begin to kindle and take shape as 
the doer and bringer of the effect. Thus it makfes 
possible the transformation of the unknown into an 
object, a He or a She out of a Thou that could not 
originally be experienced, but simply suffered. 

This initial and long-continuing relational character 
of every essential phenomenon makes it also easier to 
understand a certain, spiritual element of primitive life 
that is much discussed and observed, but not yet 
properly grasped, in present-day study. I mean that 
mysterious power the idea of which has been traced, 
through many variations, in the form of the beliefs or 


in the knowledge (both being still one) of many nature 
peoples. Known as Mana or Orenda, it opens a way 
to the Brahman in its primal meaning, and further to 
the Dynamis and Charis of the Magical Papyri and of 
the Apostolic Epistles. It has been characterised as 
a supersensuous or supernatural power — descriptions 
which depend on our categories and do not correspond 
to those of the primitive man. The limits of his world 
are set by his bodily experience, to which visits from 
the dead, say, quite "naturally" belong. To accept 
what has no sensuous qualities at all as actually existing 
must strike him as absurd. The appearances to which 
he ascribes the " mystical power " are all elementary 
incidents that are relational in character, that is, all 
incidents that disturb him by stirring his body and 
leaving behind in him a stirring image. The moon 
and the dead, visiting him by night with pain 
or pleasure, have that power. But so, too, have 
the burning sun and the howling beast and the chief 
whose glance constrains him and the sorcerer whose 
singing loads him with power for the hunt, Mana is 
simply the effective force, that which has made the person 
of the moon, up there in the heavens, into a blood- 
stirring Thou. The memory of it left its track when 
the image of the object was separated out from the 
total stirring image; although it itself, indeed, 
never appears other than in the doer and bringer 
of an effect. It is that with which man himself, if 
he possesses it— perhaps in a wonderful stone— can 
be effective in this way. The « world-image n of 
primitive man is magical not because human magical 
power is set in the midst of it but because this human 


power is only a particular variety of the general 
magic power frdm which all effective action is 
derived. Causality in his world-image is no unbroken 
sequence but an ever new flashing forth of power and 
moving out towards its production; it is a volcanic 
movement without continuity. Mana is a primitive 
abstraction, probably more primitive than, say, number, 
but not any more supernatural than it. The memory 
as it is being trained ranges the grand relational 
. events, the elemental emotional shocks. The most 
important for the instinct of preservation and the 
most noteworthy for the instinct to understand — that 
is, " that which effects/' stands out most forcibly of 
all, and becomes independent. The less important, 
the non-communal, the changing Thou of experi- 
ences, retires and remains isolated in the memory, and 
is gradually transformed into an object and very 
slowly drawn into groups and classes. As third in the 
arrangement, terrible when thus separated, at times 
more ghostly than the dead and the moon, but always 
more and more irrefutably clear, there arises up the 
other, " unchanging " partner, " I". 

Consciousness of the " I " is not connected with the 
primitive sway of the instinct for self-preservation any 
more than with that of the other instincts. It is not 
the " I " that wishes to propagate itself, but the body, 
that knows as yet of no " I ". It is not the " I " but 
the body that wishes to make things, a tool or a toy, that 
wishes to be a " creator ". ^Further, a cognosce* ergo sum, 
in however naive a form and however childlike a con- 
ception of an experiencing subject, cannot be found in 
the primitive function of knowledge. The " I " emerges 


power is only a particular variety of the genera! 
magic power fr6m which all effective action is 
derived. Causality in his world-image is no unbroken 
sequence but an ever new flashing forth of power and 
moving out towards its production; it is a volcanic 
movement without continuity, Mana is a primitive 
abstraction, probably more primitive than, say, number, 
but not any more supernatural than it. The memory 
as it is being trained ranges the grand relational 
„ events, the elemental emotional shocks. The most 
important for the instinct of preservation and the 
most noteworthy for the instinct to understand — that 
is, " that which effects," stands out most forcibly of 
all, and becomes independent. The less important, 
the non-communal, the changing Thou of experi- 
ences, retires and remains isolated in the memory, and 
is gradually transformed into an object and very 
slowly drawn into groups and classes. As third in the 
arrangement, terrible when thus separated, at times 
more ghostly than the dead and the moon, but always 
more and more irrefutably clear, there arises up the 
other, " unchanging " partner, " I". 

Consciousness of the " I " is not connected with the 
primitive sway of the instinct for self-preservation any 
more than with that of the other instincts. It is not 
the " I " that wishes to propagate itself, but the body, 
that knows as yet of no " I ". It is not the " I " but 
the body that wishes to make things, a tool or a toy, that 
wishes to be a " creator ". Further, a cognosce ergo mm f 
in however naive a form and however childlike a con- 
ception of an experiencing subject, cannot be found in 
the primitive function of knowledge* The " I " emerges 


round about it. The body comes to know and to 
differentiate itself in its peculiarities ; the differentia- 
tion, however, remains one of pure juxtaposition, and 
hence cannot have the character of the state in which 
I is implied. 

But when the I of the relation has stepped forth 
and taken on separate existence, it also moves, strangely 
tenuous and reduced to merely functional activity, into 
the natural, actual event of the separation of the body 
from the world round about it, and awakens there the 
state in which I is properly active. Only now can the 
conscious act of the 7 take "place. This act is the first 
form of the primary word I-It, of the experience in its 
relation to I. The I which stepped forth declares itself 
to be the bearer, and the world round about to be the 
object, of the perceptions. Of course, this happens in 
a " primitive " form and not in the form of a " theory 
of knowledge "„ But whenever the sentence " I see the 
tree " is so uttered that it no longer tells of a relation 
between the man — I — and the tree — Thou — , but estab- 
lishes the perception of the tree as object by the human 
consciousness, the barrier between subject and object 
has been set up. The primary word I-It, the word of 
separation, has been spoken. 

— That melancholy of our fate, then, arose in earliest 
history % 

— Indeed, yes — in so far as the conscious life of man 
arose in earliest history. But conscious life means the 
return of cosmic being as human becoming. Spirit 
appears in time as a product — even as a by-product 


of nature, yet it is in spirit that nature is tunelessly 

The opposition of the two primary words has 
many names at different times and in different 
worlds ; but in its nameless truth it is inherent in 


— But you believe then in the existence of a paradise 
in the earliest days of mankind ? 

— Even if it was a hell — and certainly that time to 
which I can go back in historical thought was full of 
fury and anguish and torment and cruelty — at any rate 
it was not unreal. 

The relational experiences of man in earliest days 
were certainly not tame and pleasant. But rather 
force exercised on being that is really lived than shadowy 
solicitude for faceless numbers ! From the former a 
way leads to God, from the latter only one to nothing- 


Only brief glimpses into the context in time of the 
two primary words are given us by primitive man, 
whose life, even if it could be made fully accessible, 
can represent only as it were allegorically that of the 
real early man. We receive fuller knowledge from the 

Here it becomes crystal clear to us that the spiritual 
reality of the primary words arises out of a natural 
reality, that of the primary word I-Thou out of natural 
combination, and that of the primary word I-It out of 
natural separation. 


The ante-natal life of the child is one of purely 
natural combination, bodily interaction and flowing 
from the one to the other. Its life's horizon, as it 
comes into being, seems in a unique way to be, and yet 
again not to be, traced in that of the life that bears it. 
For it does not rest only in the womb of the human 
mother. Yet this connexion has such a cosmic 
quality that the mythical saying of the Jews, " in the 
mother's body man knows the universe, in birth he 
forgets it," reads like the imperfect decipherment of 
an inscription from earliest times. And it remains 
indeed in man as a secret image of desire. Not as 
though his yearning meant a longing to return, as those 
suppose who see in the spirit — confusing it with their 
intellect — a parasite of nature, when it is rather (though 
exposed to diverse illnesses) nature's best flower. But 
the yearning is for the cosmic connexion, with its true 
Thou, of this life that has burst forth into spirit. 

Every child that is coming into being rests, like all 
life that is coming into being, in the womb of the great 
mother, the undivided primal world that precedes form. 
From her, too, we are separated, and enter into personal 
life, slipping free only in the dark hours to be close to 
her again ; night by night this happens to the healthy 
man. But this separation does not occur suddenly 
and catastrophically like the separation from the 
bodily mother ; time is granted to the child to exchange 
a spiritual connexion, that is, relabi<m> for the natural 
connexion with the world that he gradually loses. He 
has stepped out of the glowing darkness of chaos into 
the cool light of creation. But he does not possess 
it yet ; he must first draw it truly out, he must make 


it into a reality for himself, he must find for himself 
his own world by seeing and hearing and touching and 
shaping it. Creation reveals, in meeting, its essential 
nature as form. It does not spill itself into expectant 
senses, but rises up to meet the grasping senses. That 
which will eventually play as an accustomed object 
around the man who is fully developed, must be wooed 
and won by the developing man in strenuous action. 
For no thing is a ready-made part of an experience ; 
only in the strength, acting and being acted upon, 
of what is over against men, is anything made access- 
ible. Like primitive man the child lives between sleep 
and sleep (a great part of his waking hours is also sleep) 
in the flash and counter-flash of meeting. 

The primal nature of the effort to establish relation 
is already to be seen in the earliest and most confined 
stage. Before anything isolated can be perceived, timid 
glances move out into indistinct space, towards some- 
thing indefinite ; and in times when there seems to be 
no desire for nourishment, hands sketch delicately and 
dimly in the empty air, apparently aimlessly seeking and 
reaching out to meet something indefinite. You may, 
if you wish, call this an animal action, but it is not 
thereby comprehended. For these very glances will 
after protracted attempts settle on the red carpet- 
pattern and not be moved till the soul of the red has 
opened itself to them ; and this very movement of the 
hands will win from a woolly Teddy-bear its precise 
form, apparent to the senses, and become lovingly 
and unforgettably aware of a complete body. Neither 
of these acts is experience of an object, but is the 
correspondence of the child — to-be sure only " fanciful " 


— with what is alive and effective over against him. 
(This " fancy " does not in the least involve, however, a 
" giving of life to the universe " : it is* the instinct to 
make everything into Thou, to give relation to the 
universe, the instinct which completes out of its own 
richness the living effective action when a mere copy 
or symbol of it is given in what is. over against him.) 
Little, disjointed, meaningless sounds still go out per- 
sistently into the void. But one day, unforeseen, they 
will have become conversation — does it matter that it is 
perhaps with the simmering kettle ? It is conversation. 
Many a movement termed reflex is a firm trowel in 
the building up of the person in the world. It is simply 
not the case that the child first perceives an object, 
then, as it were, puts himself in relation with it. But 
the effort to establish relation comes first — the hand of 
the child arched out so that what is over against him 
may nestle under it; second is the actual relation, a 
saying of Thou without words, in the state preceding 
the word-form ; the thing, like the 7, is produced late, 
arising after the original experiences have been split 
.sunder and the connected partners separated. In the 
beginning is relation—as category of being, readiness, 
grasping form, mould for the soul ; it is the a priori 
of relation, the inborn Thou. 

The inborn Thou is realised in the lived relations 
with that which meets it. The fact that this Thou 
can be known as what is over against the child, can be 
^ taken up in exclusiveness, and finally can be addressed 
with the primary word, is based on the a priori of 

In the instinct to make contact (first by touch and 

then by visual " touch. " of another being) the inborn 
Thou is very soon brought to its full powers, so that the 
instinct ever more clearly turns out to mean mutual 
relation, " tenderness ". But the instinct to " creation ", 
which is established later (that is, the instinct to set 
up things in a synthetic, or, if that is impossible, in an 
analytic way — through pulling to pieces or tearing up), 
is also determined by this inborn Thou, so that a " per- 
sonification " of what is made, and a " conversation ", 
take place. The development of the soul in the child is 
inextricably bound up with that of the longing for the 
Thou 9 with the satisfaction and the disappointment of 
this longing, with the game of his experiments and the 
tragic seriousness of his perplexity. Genuine under- 
standing of this phenomenon, which is injured by every 
attempt to lead it back into more confined spheres, can 
only be promoted if, during its observation and dis- 
cussion, its cosmic and metacosmic origin is kept in 
mind. For it reaches out from the undivided primal 
world which precedes form, out of which the bodily 
individual who is born into the world, but not yet the 
personal, actualised being, has fully emerged. For only 
gradually, by entering into relations, is the latter to 
develop out of this primal world. 

Through the Thou a man becomes 7. That which 
confronts him comes and disappears, relational events 
condense, then are scattered, and in the change con- 
sciousness of the unchanging partner, of the Z, grows 
clear, and each time stronger. To be sure, it is still 
seen caught in the web of the relation with the 


Thou, as the increasingly distinguishable feature of that 
which reaches out to and yet is not the Thou. But it 
continually breaks through with more power, till a time 
comes when it bursts its bonds, and the I confronts 
itself for a moment, separated as though it were a Thou ; 
as quickly to take possession of itself and from then on 
to enter into relations in consciousness of itself. 

Only now can the other primary word be assembled. 
Hitherto the Thou of relation was continually fading 
away, but it did not thereby become an It for some Z, 
an object of perception and experience without real 
connexion — as it will henceforth become. It became 
rather an It, so to speak, for itself, an It disregarded at 
first, yet waiting-to rise up in a new relational event. 
Further, the body maturing into a person was hitherto 
distinguished, as bearer of its perceptions and executor 
of its impulses, from the world round about. But this 
distinction was simply a juxtaposition brought about by 
its seeing its way in the situation, and not an absolute 
severance of I and its object. But now the separated I 
emerges, transformed. Shrunk from substance and 
fulness to a functional point, to a subject which 
experiences and uses, I approaches and takes pos- 
session of all It existing "in and for itself", and 
forms in conjunction with it the other primary word. 
The man who has become conscious of Z, that is, the 
man who says I^It, stands before things, but not over 
against them in the flow of mutual action. Now with 
the magnifying glass of peering observation he bends 
over particulars and objectifies them, or with the field- 
glass of remote inspection he objectifies them and 
arranges them as scenery, he isolates them in observa- 


tion without any feeling of their exclusiveness, or he 
knits them into a scheme of observation without any- 
feeling of universality. The feeling of exclusiveness 
he would be able to find only in relation,, the feeling of 
universality only through it. Now for the first time he 
experiences things as sums of qualities. From each rela- 
tional experience qualities belonging to the remembered 
Thou had certainly remained sunk in his memory ; but 
now for the first time things are for him actually com- 
posed of their qualities. From the simple memory of the 
relation the man, dreaming or fashioning or thinking, 
according to his nature, enlarges the nucleus, the 
substance that showed itself in the Thou with power 
and gathered up in itself all qualities. But now also 
for the first time he sets things in space and time, 
in causal connexion, each with its own place and 
appointed course, its measurability and conditioned 

The Thou appears, to be sure, in space, but in the 
exclusive situation of what is over against it,* wher? 
everything else can be only the background out of which 
it emerges, not its boundary and measured limit. It 
appears, .too, in time, but in that of the event which is 
fulfilled in itself :" it is not lived as part of a continuous 
and organised sequence, but is lived in a" duration " 
whose purely intensive dimension is definable only . 
in terms of itself. It appears, lastly, simultaneously 
as acting and as being acted upon — not, however, linked 
to a chain of causes, but, in its relation of mutual 
action with the i", as the beginning and the end of the ' 
event. This is part of the basic truth of the human 
world, that only It can be arranged in order. Only 


when things, from being our Thou, become our It, can 
they be co-ordinated. The Thou knows no system of 

But now that we have come so far, it is necessary 
to set down the other part of the basic truth, without 
which this would be a useless fragment — namely, a 
world that is ordered is not the world-order. There 
are moments of silent depth in which you look on the 
world -order folly present. Then in its very flight the 
note will be heard ; but the ordered world is its indis- 
tinguishable score. These moments are immortal, and 
most transitory of all ; no content may be secured from 
them, but their power invades creation and the know- 
ledge of man, beams of their power stream into the 
ordered world and dissolve it again and again. This 
happens in the history both of the individual and of the 

To man the world is twofold, in accordance with his 
twofold attitude. 

He perceives what exists round about him — simply 
things, and beings as things ; and what happens round 
about him — simply events, and actions as events ; things 
consisting of qualities, events of moments; things 
entered in the graph of place, events in that of time ; 
things and events bounded by other things and events, 
measured by them, comparable with them : he perceives 
an ordered and detached world. It is to some extent 
a reliable world, having density and duration. Its 
organisation can be surveyed and brought out again 
and again; gone over with closed eyes, and verified 
with open eyes. It is always there, next to your skin, 


if you look on it that way, cowering in your soul, 
if you prefer it so. It is your object, remains it as long 
as you wish, and remains a total stranger, within you 
and without. You perceive it, take it to yourself as 
the " truth '*," and it lets itself be taken ; but it does not 
give itself to you. Only concerning it may you make 
yourself " understood " with others ; it is ready, though 
attached to everyone in a different way, to be an object 
common to you all. But you cannot meet others in it. 
You cannot hold on to life without it, its reliability 
sustains you ; but should you die in it, your grave • 
would be in nothingness. 

Or on the other hand, man meets what exists and 
becomes as what is over against him, always simply a 
single being and each thing simply as being. What 
exists is opened to him in happenings, and what happens 
affects him as what is. Nothing is present for him except 
this one being, but it implicates the whole world. 
Measure and comparison have disappeared ; it lies with 
yourself how much of the immeasurable becomes reality 
for you. These meetings are not organised to make the 
world, but each is a sign of the world-order. They are 
not linked up with one another, but each assures you 
of your solidarity with the world. The world which 
appears to you in this way is unreliable, for it takes 
on a continually new appearance; you cannot hold 
it to its word. It has no density, for everything in it 
penetrates everything else ; no duration, for it comes 
even when it is not summoned, and vanishes even when 
it is tightly held. It cannot be surveyed, and if you wish 
to make it capable of survey you lose it. It comes, and 
comes to bring you out ; if it does not reach you, 


meet you, then it vanishes ; but it comes back in another 
form. It is not outside you, it stirs in the depth of you ; 
if you say " Soul of my soul " you have not said too 
much, But guard against wishing to remove it into 
your soul — for then you annihilate it. It is your present ; 
only while you have it do you have the present. Tou can 
make it into an object for yourself, to experience and 
to use ; you must continually do this — and as you do it 
you have no more present. Between you and it there is 
mutual giving : you say Thou to it and give yourself to it, 
it says Thou to you and gives itself to you. You cannot 
make yourself understood with others concerning it, 
you are alone with it. But it teaches you to meet others, 
and to hold your ground when you meet them. Through 
the graciousness of its comings and the solemn sadness 
of its goings it leads you away to the Thou in which 
the parallel lines of relations meet. It does not help 
to sustain you in life, it only helps you to glimpse 

The world of It is set in the context of space and time. 

The world of Thou is not set in the context of either 
of these. 

The particular Thou, after the relational event has 
run its course, is bound to become an It. 

The particular It, by entering the relational event, 
may become a Thou. 

These are the two basic privileges of the world of 
It. They move man to look on the world of It as the 
world in which he has to live, and in which it is comfort- 
able to live, as the world, indeed, which offers him 
d 33 

all manner of incitements and excitements, activity 
and knowledge. In this chronicle of solid benefits the 
moments of the Thou appear as strange lyric and 
dramatic episodes, seductive and magical, but tearing 
xis away to dangerous extremes, loosening the well- 
tried context, leaving more questions than satisfaction 
behind them, shattering security — in short, uncanny 
moments we can well dispense with. For since we are 
bound to leave them and go back into the " world ", 
why not remain in it ? Why not call to order what 
is over against us, and send it packing into the realm 
of objects.? Why, if we find ourselves on occasion 
with no choice but to say Thou to father, wife, or 
comrade, not say Thou and mean It ? To utter the 
sound Thou with the vocal organs is by. no means the 
same as saying the uncanny primary word; more, 
it is harmless to whisper with the soul an amorous Thou, 
so long as nothing else in a serious way is meant but 
experience and make use of. 

It is not possible to live in the bare present. Life 
would be quite consumed if precautions were not 
taken to subdue the present speedily and thoroughly. 
But it is possible to live in the bare past, indeed only in 
it may a life be organised. We only need to fill each 
moment with experiencing and using, and it ceases 
to burn. 

And in all the seriousness of truth, hear this : without 
It man cannot live. But he who lives with It alone 
is not a man. 



The history of the individual and that of the human 
race, in whatever they may continually part company, 
agree at least in this one respect, that they indicate a 
progressive augmentation of the world of It 

In respect of the history of the race that is called in 
question ; it is pointed out that the successive realms 
of culture have their beginning in a primitive state, 
whose colour may differ, but whose structure is constant. 
In conformity with this primitiveness these cultural 
realms begin with a small world of objects. The life 
not of the race but of the particular culture would thus 
correspond to the individual life. But, apart from the 
apparently isolated realms, through the historical in- 
fluence of other pre-existing cultures they take over, 
at a certain stage, the world of It belonging to these 
cultures. This stage is not reached early, but neverthe- 
less precedes the generation of the heyday. It may take 
the form of direct acceptance of what is contemporary, 
as Greece accepted the Egyptian world ; or it may take 
the form of indirect acceptance of what is past, as western 
Christianity accepted the Greek world. These cultures, 
then, enlarge their world of It not merely through their 
own experience, but also through the absorption of 
foreign experience. Only then does a culture, thus 
grown, fulfil itself in decisive, discovering expansion. 
(For the present let the paramount contribution made 
by the perception and acts of the world of Thou be left 
out of account.) Hence, in general, the world of objects 
in every culture is more extensive than that of its 
predecessor. Despite sundry stoppages and apparent 


retrogressions the progressive augmentation of the world 
of It is to be clearly discerned in history. It is beside 
the point of this conclusion whether the character of 
finitude or that of so-called infinity, more precisely non- 
finitude, belongs to the " world-view " of a culture ; 
though certainly a " finite " world can well contain 
more parts, things, and processes than an "infinite". 
It is also to be observed that it is important to compare 
not merely the extent of natural knowledge, but also 
that of social differentiation and that of technical 
achievement. For through both of these the world of 
objects is enlarged. 

The primary relation of man to the world of It is 
comprised in experiencing, which continually reconstitutes 
the world, and using, which leads the world to its mani- 
fold aim, the sustaining, relieving, and equipping of 
human life. In proportion to the growing extent of 
the world of It, ability to experience and use it must also 
grow. The individual can, to be sure, more and more 
replace direct with indirect experience, he can " acquire 
items of knowledge ", and he can more and more reduce 
his using of the world to specialised " utilisation " ; 
nevertheless, a continual development of this ability, 
from generation to generation, cannot be avoided. 
This is the usual meaning of the talk about a progressive 
development of the spiritual life. By this talk, guilt 
of the real sin of speech against the spirit is undoubtedly 
incurred ; for that " spiritual life " is for the most 
part the obstacle to a life lived in the spirit, and at best 
the material which, after being mastered and fashioned, 
is to go to make that life. 

It is the obstacle ; for the development of the ability 


to experience and use comes about mostly through, the 
decrease of man's power to enter into relation — the 
power in virtue of which alone man can live the life of 
the spirit. 


Spirit in its human manifestation is a response of man 
to his Thou. Man speaks with many tongues, tongues 
of language, of art, of action ; but the spirit is one, the 
response to the Thou which appears and addresses him 
out of the mystery. Spirit is the word. And just as 
talk in a language may well first take the form of words 
in the "brain of the man, and then sound in his throat, 
and yet both are merely refractions of the true event, for 
in actuality speech' does not abide in man, but man 
takes his stand in speech and talks from there ; so with 
every word and every spirit. Spirit is not in the J, but 
between I and Thou. It is not like the blood that 
circulates in you, but like the air in which you breathe. 
Man lives in the spirit, if he is able to respond to his 
Thou. He is able to, if he enters into relation with his 
whole being. Only in virtue of his power to enter into 
relation is he able to live in the spirit. 

But the destiny of the relational event is here set 
forth in the most powerful way. The stronger the 
response the more strongly does it bind up the Thou 
and banish it to be an object. Only silence before the 
Thou — silence of all tongues, silent patience in the 
undivided word that precedes the formed and vocal 
response — leaves the Thou free, and permits man to 
take his stand with it in the reserve where the spirit 
is not manifest, but is. Every response binds up the 


Thou in the world of It. That is the melancholy of 
man, and his greatness. For that is how knowledge 
comes about, a work is achieved, and image and symbol 
made, in the midst of living beings. 

But that which has been so changed into It, hardened 
into a thing among things, has had the nature and 
disposition put into it to change back again and again. 
This was the meaning in that hour of the spirit when 
spirit was joined to man and bred the response in him — 
again and again that which has the status of object 
must blaze up into presentness and enter the elemental 
state from which it came, to be looked on and lived in 
the present by men. 

The fulfilment of this nature and disposition is 
thwarted by the man who has come to terms with 
the world of It that it is to be experienced and 
used. For now instead of freeing that which is bound 
up in that world he suppresses it, instead of looking 
at it he observes it, instead of accepting it as it is, he 
turns it to his own account. 

Take knowledge : being is disclosed to the man 
who is engaged in knowing, as he looks at what is over 
against him. He will, indeed, have to grasp as an object 
that which he has seen with the force of presence, 
he will have to compare it with objects, establish it in 
its order among classes of objects, describe and analyse 
it objectively. Only as It can it enter the structure of 
knowledge. But when he saw it, it was no thing among 
things, no event among events, but exclusively present. 
Being did not share itself with him in terms of the law 
that was afterwards elicited from the appearance, but 
in terms of its very self. When a man thinks a general 


thought in this connexion he is merely unravelling the 
tangled incident ; for it was seen in particular form, in 
what was over against him. Now the incident is in- 
cluded in the It of knowledge which is composed of 
ideas. He who frees it from that, and looks on it again 
in the present moment, fulfils the nature of the act of 
knowledge to be real and effective between men. But 
knowledge can also be managed in such a way that it is 
affirmed that " this, then, is how the matter stands, the 
thing is called this, made in this way, its place is over 
there " ; that which has become It is left as It, experi- 
enced and used as It, appropriated for the undertaking 
• to "find one's bearings" in the world, and then to 
" conquer " it. 

So too in art : form is disclosed to the artist as he 
looks at what is over against him. He banishes it to 
be a " structure ". This " structure " is not in a 
world of gods, but in this great world of men. It is 
certainly " there ", even if no human eye seeks it out ; 
but it is asleep. The Chinese poet tells how men did 
not wish to hear the tune he played on his jade flute ; 
then he played it to the gods, and they inclined their 
ears ; since then men also listened to the tune : thus 
he went from the gods to those whom the " structure " 
cannot dispense with. It longs as in a dream for the 
meeting with noan, that for a timeless moment 
he may lift the ban and clasp the form. Then he 
comes on his way, and experiences what there is 
to be experienced : it is made in this way, or this 
is expressed in it, or its qualities are such and such, 
and farther, it takes this place in the scheme of 


It is not as though scientific and aesthetic understand- 
ing were not necessary ; but they are necessary to man 
that he may do his work with precision and plunge it 
in the truth of relation, which is above the under- 
standing and gathers it up in itself. 

And, thirdly, there is pure effective action without 
arbitrary self-will. This is higher than the spirit of 
knowledge and the spirit of art, for here the mortal 
bodily man does not need to mix himself with the more 
lasting stuff, but himself outlasts it as structure ; en- 
circled by the sounding music of his living speech he 
reaches the starry heaven of the spirit. Here the Thou 
appeared to the man out of deeper mystery, addressed 
him even out of the darkness, and he responded with 
his life. Here the word has from time to time become 
life, and this life is teaching. This life may have ful- 
filled the law or broken it; both are continually 
necessary, that spirit may not die on earth. This life 
is presented, then, to those who come later, to teacji 
them not what is and must be, but how life is lived in the 
spirit, face to face with the Thou. That is, it is itself ready 
on every occasion to become Thou for them, and open up 
the world of Thou — no ; it is not ready : it continually 
approaches and touches them. But they, having 
become disinclined and unfitted for the living dealings 
that would open the world to them, are fully equipped 
with information. They have pinned the person down 
in history, and secured his words in the library. They 
have codified, in exactly the same way, the fulfilment or 
the breaking of the law. Nor are they niggards with 
admiration and even idolatry, amply mixed with 
psychology, as befits modern man. lonely Face like 


a star in the night, o living Finger laid on an unheeding 
brow, o fainter echoing footstep ! 

The development of the function of experiencing 
and using comes about mostly through decrease of 
man's power to enter into relation. 

How does this same man, who made spirit into a 
means of enjoyment for himself, behave towards the 
beings that live round about him ? 

Taking his stand in the shelter of the primary word of 
separation, which holds off the I and the It from one 
another, he has divided his life with his fellow-men 
into two tidily circled-off provinces, one of institutions 
and the other of feelings — the province of It and the 
province of I. 

Institutions are " outside ", where all sorts of aims 
are pursued, where a man works, negotiates, bears in- 
fluence, undertakes, concurs, organises, conducts business, 
officiates, preaches. They are the tolerably well-ordered 
and to some extent harmonious structure, in which, 
with the manifold help of men's brains and hands, 
the process of affairs is fulfilled. 

Feelings are " within ", where life is lived and man 
recovers from institutions. Here the spectrum of the 
emotions dances before the interested glance. Here 
a man's KV™g and hate and pleasure are indulged, 
and his pain if it is not too severe. Here he is at home, 
and stretches himself out in his rocking-chair. 

Institutions are a complicated market-place, feelings 
a boudoir rich in ever-changing interests. 
The boundary line, to be sure, is constantly in danger 

since the wanton feelings break in at times on tlie most 
objective institutions ; but with united goodwill it may 
be restored. 

Most difficult of all is the reliable drawing of the 
boundary line in the realms of so-called personal life. 
In marriage, for instance, the line is occasionally not to 
be fully drawn in any simple way ; but in the end it is 
possible. In the realms of so-called public life it can 
be perfectly drawn. Let it be considered, for instance, 
how faultlessly, in the year of the parties and the 
groups with their " movements " which aimed at being 
above parties, the heaven-storming sessions on the 
one hand, and on the other hand business, creeping 
along the ground (smoothly like a machine or slovenly 
and organically), are separated from one another. 

But the separated It of institutions is an animated 
clod without soul, and the separated I of feelings 
an uneasily fluttering soul-bird. Neither of them 
knows man : institutions know only the specimen, 
feelings only the " object " ; neither knows the person, 
or mutual life. Neither of them knows the present : 
even the most up-to-date institutions know only 
the lifeless past that is over and done with, and even 
the most lasting feelings know 'only the flitting moment 
that has not yet come properly into being. Neither of 
them has access to real life. Institutions yield no 
public life, and feelings no personal life. 

Th$t institutions yield no public life is realised by 
increasing numbers, realised with increasing distress : 
this is the starting-point of the seeking need of the age. 
That feelings yield no personal life is understood only 
by a few. For the most personal life of all seems to 


reside in feelings, and if, like the modern man, you 
have learned to concern yourself wholly with your own 
feelings, despair at their unreality will not easily in- 
struct you in a better way— for despair is also an 
interesting feeling. 

The men who suffer distress in the realisation that 
institutions yield no public life have hit upon an 
expedient : institutions must be loosened, or dissolved, 
or burst asunder, by the feelings themselves; they 
must be given new life from the feelings, by the intro- 
duction into them of the " freedom of feeling ". If the 
mechanical State, say, links together citizens alien to 
one another in their very being, without establishing, 
or promoting, a being together, let the State, these 
men say, be replaced by the community of love ; and 
this community will arise when people, out of free, 
abundant feeling, approach and wish to live with one 
another. But it is not so. The true community does 
not arise through peoples having feelings for one 
another (though indeed not without it), but through, 
first, their taking their stand in living mutual relation 
with a living Centre, and, second, their being in living 
mutual relation with one another. The second has its 
source in the first, but is not given when the first alone 
is given. Living mutual relation includes feelings, but 
does not originate with the>m. The community is 
built up out of living mutual relation, but the builder is 
the living effective Centre. 

Further, institutions of the so-called personal life 
cannot be given new life by free feeling (though indeed 
not without it). Marriage, for instance, will never be 
given new life except by that out of which true marriage 


always arises, the revealing by two people of tlie Thou 
to one another. Out of this a marriage is built up by 
the Thou that is neither of the Vs. This is the meta- 
physical and metapsychical factor of love to which 
feelings of love are mere accompaniments. He who 
wishes to give new life to marriage from another source 
is not essentially different from him who wishes to abolish 
it. Both clearly show that they no longer know the 
vital factor. And indeed, if in all the much discussed 
erotic philosophy of the age we were to leave out of 
account everything that involves experience in relation 
to the I, that is, every situation in which the one is not 
present to the other, given present status by it, but merely 
enjoys itself in the other— what then would be left % 

True public and true personal life are two forms of 
connexion. In that they come into being and endure, 
feelings (the changing content) and institutions, (the 
constant form) are necessary; but put together they 
do not create human life : this* is done by the third, the* 
central presence of the Thou, or rather, more truly stated, 
by the central Thou that has been received in the present. 

The primary word I-It is not of evil — as matter 
is not of evil. It is of evil— as matter is, which presumes 
to have the quality of present being. If a man lets 
it have the mastery, the continually growing world 
of It overruns him and robs him of the reality of 
bis own I, till the incubus over him and the ghost 
within him whisper to one another the confession of 
their non-salvation. 


— But is the communal life of modern man not then 
of necessity sunk in the world of It ? Can the two com- 
partments of this life, economics and State, with their 
present extent and completeness of structure, be con- 
ceived to rest on any other basis but that of a deliber- 
ate renunciation of all " directness ", and a resolute 
rejection of every court of appeal which is " alien ", that 
is, which does not arise from this sphere itself ? And 
if it is the experiencing and using I that rules here, the 
I that makes use of assets and work done in economics, and 
strivings and opinions in politics, must we not thank this 
unlimited mastery for the extensive and solid structure 
of the great " objective "products in these two circles % 
Is not, indeed, the productive greatness of the leading 
statesman and the leading economist bound up with the 
fact that he looks on the men with whom he has to deal 
not as bearers of the Thou that cannot be experienced 
but as centres of work and effort, whose particular 
capabilities it is his concern to estimate and utilise ? 
Would his world not fall in on him if, instead of adding 
up He and He and He to make an It, he tried to calculate 
the sum of Thou and Thou and Thou — which never 
yields anything but Thou again 1 Would that not be 
to exchange formative mastery for fastidious dilettan- 
tism, and illuminating reason for cloudy fanaticism 1 
And if we look from the leaders to the led, has not the 
very development in the nature of modern work and 
possession destroyed almost every trace of. living with 
what is over against them — of significant relation % 
It would be absurd to wish to return on this develop- 
men t — and if the absurd did come about, the enormous 
and nicely balanced apparatus of this civilisation, which 


alone makes life possible for the enormous numbers of 
men that have grown with it, would simultaneously be 

— Speechmaker, you speak too late. Just a little time 
ago you would have been able to believe in your speech, 
now you no longer can. For, a moment ago, you saw as 
I did, that the State is no longer led ; the stokers still 
pile in the coal, but the leaders have now only the 
semblance of control over the madly racing machines. 
And in this moment, as you speak, you can hear as I 
do that the levers of economics are beginning to sound 
in an unusual way ; the masters smile at you with 
superior assurance, but death is in their hearts. They 
tell you they suited the apparatus to the circumstances, 
but you notice that from now on they can only suit 
themselves to the apparatus — so long, that is to say, 
as it permits them. Their speakers teach you that 
economics is entering on the State's inheritance, but you 
know that there is nothing to inherit except the tyranny 
of the exuberantly growing It, under which the 7, less 
and less able to master, dreams on that it is the ruler. 

The communal life of man can no more than man 
himself dispense with the world of It, over which the 
presence of the Thou moves like the spirit upon the face 
of the waters. Man's will to profit and to be powerful 
have their natural and proper effect so long as they are 
linked with, and upheld by, his will to enter into relation. 
There is no evil impulse till the impulse hasbeenseparated 
from the being ; the impulse which is bound up with, 
and defined by, the being is the living stuff of communal 
life, that which is detached is its disintegration. 
Economics, the abode of the will to profit, and State, 


the abode of the will to be powerful, share in life as long 
as they share in the spirit. If they abjure spirit they 
abjure life. Life, to be sure, gives itself time to bring 
its affairs to a real conclusion, and for a good while men 
imagine they see a structure moving where for a long 
time a machine has been whirling. The matter is 
indeed not to be helped by the introduction of a little 
directness. The loosening of the structure of economics or 
of the State cannot compensate for their being no longer 
under the dominance of the spirit that says Thou : no 
disturbance on the "periphery can serve as substitute for 
the living relation with the Centre. Structures of man's 
communal life draw their living quality from the riches 
of the power to enter into relation, which penetrates 
their various parts, and obtain their bodily form from 
the binding up of this power in the spirit. The statesman 
or the economist who obeys the spirit is no dilettante \ 
he knows well that he cannot, without undoing his work, 
simply confront, as bearers of the Thou, the men with 
"whom he has to deal. Yet he risks doing it, not plainly 
and simply but as far as the boundary set for him by the 
spirit. The spirit sets this for him, and the risk that 
would have shattered a separated structure succeeds in 
the structure over which the presence of the Thou broods. 
He is no fanatic; he serves the truth which, though 
higher than reason, yet does not repudiate it, but holds it 
inits lap. He does in communal life precisely what is done 
in personal life by the man who knows himself incapable 
of realising the Thou in its purity, yet daily confirms 
its truth in the It % in accordance with what is right and 
fitting for the day, drawing — disclosing — the boundary 
line anew each day. So, too, only with spirit, not them- 
e 49 

selves, as starting-point, are work and possession to be 
released ; only from the presence of spirit can meaning 
and joy stream into all work, awe and sacrificial power 
into all possession — tilting them not to the brim but 
sufficiently; only from its presence can everything 
that is worked and possessed, while remaining in 
adherence to the world of It, yet be transfigured into 
what is over against man — into the representation of 
the Thou. There is no going backwards, but in the very 
moment of deepest need a hitherto undreamt-of move- 
ment forwards and outwards. 

It does not matter if the State rules economics or is 
given its authority by it, so long as both are unchanged. 
It does matter if the organisation of the State becomes 
freer and that of economics more equitable — but not 
for the question asked here about the real life; they 
certainly cannot become free and equitable with them- 
selves as starting-point. It matters most of all if the 
spirit which says Thou, which responds, remains by life 
and reality, if that which is still interleaved "by spirit 
in man's communal life is subjected to the State and to 
economics or is independently effective, and if that of 
spirit which still persists in man's personal life is re- 
assimilated into the communal life. If communal 
life were parcelled out into independent realms, one of 
which is " the spiritual life ", this would certainly not be 
done ; that would only mean to give up once and for all 
to tyranny the provinces that are sunk in the world 
of It, and to rob the spirit completely of reality. For 
the spirit is never independently effective in life in 
itself alone, but in relation to the world : possessing 
power that petmeates the world of It, transforming it. 


The spirit is truly " in its own realm " if it can confront 
the world tliat is unlocked to it, give itself to this world, 
and in its relation with it save both itself and.the world. 
The distracted, weakened, degenerated, contradictory 
spirituality which to-day represents spirit would be able 
to do this only if it were to reach again the life of 
spirit which can utter the Thou. 

Causality has an unlimited reign in the world of It. 
Every " physical " event that can be perceived by the 
senses, but also every " psychical " event existing 
or discovered in self-experience is necessarily valid as 
being caused and as causing. Further, events to which a 
teleological character maybe attributed are as parts of the 
unbroken world of It not excepted from this causality ; 
the continuum to which they belong certainly tolerates a 
teleology, but only as the reverse side worked into a 
part of causality, and not impairing its continuity tod 

The unlimited reign of causality in the world of It, 
of fundamental importance for the scientific ordering 
of nature, does not weigh heavily on man, who is not 
limited to the world of It, but can continually leave it 
for the world of relation. Here I and Thou freely confront 
one another in mutual effect that is neither connected 
with nor coloured by any causality. Here man is assured 
of the freedom both of his being and of Being. Only he 
who knows relation and knows about the presence of the 
Thou is capable of decision. He who decides is free, 
for he has approached the Face. 

The fiery stuff of all my ability to will seethes 


tremendously, all that I might do circles around me, still 
without actuality in the world, flung together and seem- 
ingly inseparable, alluring glimpses of powers flicker from 
all the uttermost bounds : the universe is my temptation, 
and I achieve being in an instant, with both hands 
plunged deep in the fire, where the single deed is 
hidden, the deed which aims at me — now is the 
moment ! Already the menace of the abyss is removed, 
the centreless Many no longer plays in the iridescent 
sameness of its pretensions ; but only two alternatives 
are set side by side — the other, the vain idea, and the 
one, the charge laid on me. But now realisation begins 
in me. For it is not decision to do the one and leave 
the other a lifeless mass, deposited layer upon layer as 
dross in my soul. But he alone who directs the whole 
strength of the alternative into the doing of the charge, 
who lets the abundant passion of what is rejected invade 
the growth to reality of what is chosen — he alone who 
" serves God with the evil impulse " makes decision, 
decides the event. If this is understood, it is also known 
that this which has been set up, towards which direction 
is set and. decision made, is to be given the name of 
upright ; and if there were a devil it would not be one 
who decided against God, but one who, in eternity, 
came to no decision. 

Causality does not weigh on the man to whom freedom 
is assured. He knows that his mortal life swings by 
nature between Thou and It, and he is aware of the 
significance of this. It suffices him to be able to cross 
again and again the threshold of the holy place wherein 
he was not able to remain ; the very fact that he must 
leave it again and again is inwardly bound up for him 


with the meaning and character of this life. There, 
on the threshold, the response, the spirit, is kindled ever 
new within him ; here, in an unholy and needy country, 
this spark is to be proved. What is called necessity here 
cannot frighten him, for he has recognised there true 
necessity, namely, destiny. 

Destiny and freedom are solemnly promised to one 
another. Only the man who makes freedom real to 
himself meets destiny. In my discovery of the deed 
that aims at. me — in this movement of my freedom the 
mystery is revealed to me ; but also in failure to fulfil 
the deed as I intended it to be — in this resistance, too, 
the mystery is revealed to me. He who forgets all that 
is caused and mates decision out of the depths, who 
rids himself of property and raiment and naked ap- 
proaches the Face, is a free man, and destiny confronts 
hrm as the counterpart of his freedom. It is not his 
boundary, but his fulfilment ; freedom and destiny are 
linked together in meaning. And in this meaning 
destiny, with eyes a moment ago so severe now filled with 
light, looks out like grace itself. 

No ; causal necessity does not weigh heavily on the 
man who returns to the world of It bearing this spark. 
And in times of healthy life trust streams from men of 
the spirit to all people. To all men indeed, even to the 
dullest, meeting — the present — has come somehow, 
naturally, impulsively, dimly : all men have somewhere 
been aware of the Thou ; now the spirit gives them full 

But in times of sickness it comes about that the 
world of It, no longer penetrated and fructified by the 
inflowing world of Thou as by living streams, but 


separated and stagnant, a gigantic ghost of the fens, 
overpowers man. In coming to terms with a world of 
objects that no longer assume present being for him he 
succumbs to this world. Then smooth causality rises 
up till it is an oppressive, stifling fate. 

Every great culture that comprehends nations rests 
on an original relational incident, on a response to the 
Thou made at its source, on an act of the being made 
by the spirit. This act, strengthened by the similarly 
directed power of succeeding generations, creates in 
the spirit a special conception of the cosmos; only 
through this act is cosmos, an apprehended world, a 
world that is homely and houselike, man's dwelling 
in the world, made possible again and again. Only now 
can man, confident in his soul, build again and again, 
in a special conception of space, dwellings for God and 
dwellings for men, and fill swaying time with new 
hymns and songs, and shape the very community of men. 
But he i3 free and consequently creative only so long as 
he possesses, in action and suffering in his own life, that 
act of the being — so long as he himself enters into 
relation. If a culture ceases to be centred in the 
living and continually renewed relational event, then 
it hardens into the world of It, which the glowing deeds 
of solitary spirits only spasmodically break through. 
Thenceforth smooth causality, which before had no 
power to disturb the spiritual conception of the cosmos, 
rises up till it is an oppressive, stifling fate. Wise and 
masterful destiny, that reigned, in harmony with the 
wealth of meaning in the cosmos, over all causality, has 
been changed into a demonic spirit adverse to meaning, 
and has fallen into the power of causality. The very 


karma tliat appeared to the forefathers as a charitable 
dispensation — for what we do in this life raises us 
up for a future life in higher spheres — is now recognised 
as tyranny : for the karma of an earlier life of which we 
are unconscious has shut us in a prison we cannot break 
in this life. Where hitherto a heaven was established 
in a law, manifest to the senses, raising its light arch 
from which the spindle of necessity hangs, the wander- 
ing stars now rule in senseless and oppressive might. It 
was necessary only to give oneself to Dike, the heavenly 
" way ", which means also our way, in order to dwell 
with free heart in the universal bounds of fate. But 
now, whatever we do, we are laden with the whole 
burden of the dead weight of the world, with fate that 
does not know spirit. The storming desire for salvation 
is unsatisfied after manifold attempts, till it is stilled 
by one who learns to escape the cycle of births, or by 
one who saves the souls, that have fallen to alien powers, 
into the freedom of the children of God. Such an 
achievement arises out of a new event of meeting, which 
is in the course of assuming substantial being — out of a 
new response, determining destiny, of a man to his Thou. 
In the working out of this central act of the being, one 
culture can be relieved by another that is given up to 
the influence of this act, Jbut it can also be given new life 
in itself alone. 

The sickness of our age is like that of no other age, 
and it belongs together with them all. The history 
of cultures is not a course of aeons in which one runner 
after another has to traverse gaily and unsuspectingly 
the same death-track. A nameless way runs through 
their rise and fall : not a way of progress and develop- 


ment, but a spiral descent through the spiritual under- 
world, which can also be called an ascent to the inner- 
most, finest, most complicated whirlpool, where there 
is no advance and no retreat, but only utterly new 
reversal — the break through. Shall we have to go this 
way to the end, to trial of the final darkness ? Where 
there is danger, the rescuing force grows too. 

The quasi-biological and quasi-historical thought of 
to-day, however different the aims of each, have worked 
together to establish a more tenacious and oppressive 
belief in fate than has ever before existed. The might 
of karma or of the stars no longer controls inevitably the 
lot of man ; many powers claim the mastery, but rightly 
considered most of our contemporaries believe in a 
mixture of them, just as the late Romans believed in a 
mixture of gods. This is made easier by the nature 
of the claim. Whether it is the u law of life " of a 
universal struggle in which all must take part or re- 
nounce life, or the " law of the sotd " which completely 
builds up the psychical person from innate habitual 
instincts, or the " social law " of an irresistible social 
process to which will and consciousness may only be 
accompaniments, or the " cultural law " of an un- 
changeably uniform coming and going of historical 
structures — whatever form it takes, it always means 
that man is set in the frame of an inescapable happening 
that he cannot, or can only in his frenzy, resist. Con- 
secration in the mysteries brought freedom from the 
compulsion of the stars, and brahman-sacrifice with 
its accompanying knowledge brought freedom from 
the compulsion of karma : in both salvation was repre- 
sented. But the composite god tolerates no belief in 


release. It is considered folly to imagine any freedom ; 
there is only a choice, between resolute, and hopeless 
rebellious, Blavery. And no matter how much is said, 
in all these laws, of teleological development and 
organic growth, at the basis of them all lies possession 
by process, that is by unlimited causality. The dogma 
of gradual process is the abdication of man before 
the exuberant world of It. He misuses the name 
of destiny : destiny is not a dome pressed tightly down 
on the world of men ; no one meets it but he who went 
out from freedom. But the dogma of process leaves 
no room for freedom, none for its most real revelation 
of all, whose calm strength changes the face of the 
earth — reversal. This dogma does not know the man 
who through reversal surmounts the universal struggle, 
tears to pieces the web of habitual instincts, raises the 
class ban, and stirs, rejuvenates, and transforms the 
stable structures of history. This dogma allows you 
in its game only the choice to observe the rules or to 
retire : but the man who is realising reversal over- 
throws the pieces. The dogma is always willing to 
allow you to fulfil its limitation with your life and " to 
remain free " in your soul ; but the man who is realising 
reversal looks on this freedom as the most ignominious 

The only thing that can become fate for- a man is 
belief in fate; for this suppresses the movement of 

Belief in fate is mistaken from the beginning. 
All consideration in terms of process is merely an 
ordering of pure " having become ", of the separated 
world-event, of objectivity as though it were history ; 


the presence of the Thou, the becoming out of solid 
connexion, is inaccessible to it. It does not know 
the reality of spirit ; its scheme is not valid for 
spirit. Prediction from objectivity is valid only for the 
man who does not know presentnesfc* He who is over- 
come by the world of It is bound to see, in the dogma 
of immutable process, a truth that clears a way through 
the exuberant growth; in very truth this dogma en- 
slaves him only the more deeply to the world of It. 
But the world of Thou is not closed. He who goes out 
to it with concentrated being and risen power to enter 
into relation becomes aware of freedom. And to be 
freed from belief that there is no freedom is indeed to 
be free. 

As power over the incubus is obtained by addressing 
it with its real name, so the world of It, which a moment 
ago was stretched in its uncanniness before the puny 
strength of men, is bound to yield to the man who 
knows it for what it really is — severance and alienation 
of that out of whose abundance, when it streams close 
at hand, every earthly Thou is met, and of that which, 
though seeming at times great and fearful like the 
mother-god, yet always had a motherly air. 

— But how can the man in whose being lurks a ghost, 
the I emptied of reality, muster the* strength to address 
the incubus by name % How can the ruined power in a 
being to enter into relation be raised again, when an 
active ghost tramples continually on the ruins ? How 
does a being gather itself together, that is madly and 
unceasingly hunted in an empty circle by the separated 


I ? How may a man who lives in arbitrary self-will 
become aware of freedom ? 

— As freedom and destiny, so arbitrary self-will and 
fate belong together. But freedom and destiny are 
solemnly promised to one another and linked together 
in meaning; while arbitrary self-will and fate, soul's 
spectre and world's nightmare, endure one another, 
living side by side and avoiding one another, without 
connexion or conflict, in meaninglessness — till in an 
instant there is confused shock of glance on glance, 
and confession of their non-salvation breaks from 
them. How much eloquent and ingenious spirituality is 
expended to-day in the efiort to avert, or at least to veil, 
this event t 

The free man is he who wills without arbitrary self- 
will. He believes in reality, that is, he believes in the 
real solidarity of the real twofold entity I and Thou. 
He believes in destiny, and believes that it stands in 
need of him. It does not keep him in leading-strings, 
it awaits him, he must go to it, yet does not know where 
it is to be found. But he knows that he must go out 
withf his whole being. The matter will not turn out 
according to his decision; but what is to come will 
come only when he decides on what he is able to will. 
He must sacrifice his puny, rmfree will, that is con- 
trolled by things and instincts, to his grand will, which 
quita defined for destined being. Then he intervenes 
no more, but at the same time he does not let things 
merely happen. He listens to what is emerging from 
himself, to the course of being in the world; not 
in order to be supported by it, but in order to bring 
it to reality as it desires, in its need of him, to be 


brought — with human spirit and deed, human life and 
death. I said he believes, but that really means he 

The self-drilled man does not believe and does not 
meet. He does not know solidarity of connexion, but 
only the feverish world outside and his feverish desire 
to use it. Use needs only to be given an ancient name, 
and it companies with the gods. When this man says 
Thou, he means " my ability to use ", and what 
he terms his destiny is only the equipping and 
sanctioning of his ability to use. He has in truth no 
destiny, but only a being that is defined by things and 
instincts, which he fulfils with the feeling of sovereignty 
— that is, in the arbitrariness of self-will. He has no 
grand will, only self-will, which he passes off as real will. 
He is wholly incapable of sacrifice, even though he may 
have the word on his lips ; you know him by the fact 
that the word never becomes concrete. He intervenes 
continually, and that for the purpose of " letting things 
happen ". Why should destiny, he says to you, not be 
given a helping handl Why should the attainable 
means required by such a purpose not be utilised ? He 
sees the free man, too, in this way ; he can see him in 
no other. But the free man has no purpose here and 
means there, which he fetches for his purpose : he has 
only the one thing, his repeated decision to approach 
his destiny. He has made this decision, and from time to 
time, at every parting of ways, he will renew it. But 
he could sooner believe he was not alive than that the 
decision of his grand will was inadequate and needed to 
be supported by a means. He believes ; he meets. 
But the unbelieving core in the self-willed man can 


perceive nothing but unbelief and self-will, establishing 
of a purpose and devising of a means. Without sacrifice 
and without grace, without meeting and without present- 
ness, he has as his world a mediated world cluttered with 
purposes. His world cannot be anything else, and its 
name is fate. Thus with all his sovereignty he is wholly 
and inextricably entangled in the unreal. He knows 
this whenever he turns his thoughts to himself; that 
is why he directs the best part of his spirituality to 
averting or at least to veiling his thoughts. 

But these thoughts about apostacy, about the I 
emptied of reality and the real J, thoughts of letting 
himself sink and take root in the soil called despair by 
men, soil out of which arise self-destruction and rebirth, 
would be the beginning of reversal. 

Once upon a time, tells the Brahmana of the hundred 
paths, gods and demons were at strife. The demons 
said, : " To whom can we bring our offerings ? " They 
set them all in their own mouths. But the gods set the 
gifts in one another's mouths. Then Prajapati, the 
primal spirit, gave himself to the gods. 

— It is understandable that the world of It, given 
over to itself, that is, not brought into contact with and 
melted down by the Thou as it comes into being, takes 
on the alien form of an incubus. But how is it that (as 
you say) the I of man is emptied of reality % Surely, 
whether living in or out of relation, the I is assured of 
itself through its self-consciousness, that strong golden 


thread on which the many-coloured circumstances are 
strong. If now I say, " I see you ", or, " I see the tree ", 
perhaps the seeing is not real in the same way in both, 
but the I in both is real in the same way. 

— Let us make trial if this is so. The form of the 
words proves nothing. If many a spoken Thou indicates 
fundamentally an It, addressed as Thou only from habit 
and obtuseness, and many a spoken It fundamentally a 
Thou, its presentness remembered as it were remotely 
with the whole being, so are countless Fs only indispens- 
able pronouns, necessary abbreviations for " This man 
here who is speaking ". You speak of self-consciousness ? 
If in the one sentence the Thou of relation is truly meant 
and in the other the It of an experience, that is, if the I 
in both is truly meant, is it the same I out of whose 
self-consciousness both, are spoken ? 

The I of the primary word I-Thou is a different I 
from that of the primary word I-It. 

The I of the primary word I-It makes its appearance 
as individuality and becomes conscious of itself as subject 
(of experiencing and using). 

The I of the primary word I-Thou makes its appear- 
ance as person and becomes conscious of itself as 
subjectivity (without a dependent genitive). 

Individuality makes its appearance by being differen- 
tiated from other individualities. 

A person makes his appearance by entering into relation 
with other persons. 

The one is the spiritual form of natuial detachment, 
the other the spiritual form of natural solidarity of 

The aim of self-differentiation is to experience and to 


tse, and the aim of these is " life ", that is, dying that 
asts the span of a man's life. 

The aim of relation is relation's own being, that is, 
sontact with the Thou. For through contact with eveiy 
Thou we are stirred with a breath of the Thou, that is, 
>f eternal life* 

He who takes his stand in relation shares in a reality, 
bhat is, in a being that neither merely belongs to him 
nor merely lies outside him. All reality is an activity in 
which I share without being able to appropriate for 
myself. Where there is no sharing there is no reality. 
Where there is self-appropriation there is no reality. 
The more direct the contact with the Thou, the fuller is 
the sharing. 

The I is real in virtue of its sharing in reality. The 
fuller its sharing the more real it becomes. 

But the I that steps out of the relational event into 
separation and consciousness of separation, does not 
lose its reality. Its sharing is preserved in it in a living 
way. In other words, as is said of the supreme relation 
and may be used of all, " the seed remains in it ". This 
is the province of subjectivity in which the I is aware 
with a single awareness of its solidarity of connexion 
and of its separation. Genuine subjectivity can only 
be dynamically understood, as the swinging of the I in 
its lonely truth. Here, too, is the place where the desire 
is formed and heightened for ever higher, more un- 
conditioned relation, for the full sharing in being. 
In subjectivity the spiritual substance of the person 

The person becomes conscious of himself as sharing 
in being, as co-existing, and thus as being. Individuality 


becomes conscious of itself as being such-and-suoii and 
nothing else. The person says, " I am ", the individual 
says, " I am such-and-such". " Know thyself ", means 
for the person " know thyself to have being '% for the 
individual it means " know thy particular kind of being *\ 
Individuality in differentiating itself from others is 
rendered remote from true being. 

We do not mean by this that the person in any way 
" gives up " Ms special being, his being different — 
only that this being is not his observation-point, but 
simply there, the necessary and significant conception 
of being. Individuality, on the other hand, revels in 
its special being or, rather, mostly in the fiction of its 
special being which it has made up for itself. For to 
know itself means basically for it (for the most part) 
to establish an authoritative apparent self, capable of 
deceiving it ever more and more fundamentally, and 
to procure for itself, in looking to and honouring this 
apparent self, the semblance of knowledge of its own 
bein§ as it really is. Real knowledge of its being would 
lead it to self-destruction — or to rebirth. 

The person looks on his Self, individuality is concerned 
with its My — my kind, my race, my creation, my genius. 

Individuality neither shares in nor obtains any reality. 
It differentiates itself from the other, and seeks through 
experiencing and using to appropriate as much of it as 
it can. This is its dynamic, self-difiEerentiation and 
appropriation, each exercised on the It within the 
unreal. The subject, as it thinks itself to be, may make 
as much as it likes into its own ; in virtue of this it a c quires 
no substance, but remains a functional point, experienc- 
ing and using, no more. None of its extensive and 


manifold defined being and none of its zealous " individu- 
ality " can help it to win substance. 

There are not two kinds of man, but two poles of 

No man is pure person and no man pure individuality. 
None is wholly real, and none wholly unreal. Every man 
lives in the twofold I. But there are men so defined 
by person that they may be called persons, and men 
so defined by individuality that they may be called 
individuals. True history is decided in the field 
between these two poles. 

The more a man, humanity, is mastered by individu- 
ality, the deeper does the I sink into unreality. In 
such times the person in man and in humanity leads a 
hidden subterranean and as it were cancelled existence — 
till it is recalled. 

The stronger the I of the primary word I-Thou is 
in the twofold I, the more personal is the man. 

According to his saying of I — according to what he 
means, when he says I — it can be decided where a man 
belongs and where his way leads. The word I is the 
true shibboleth of mankind. 

So listen to this word ! 

How discordant the I of the individual ! It may stir 
great compassion if it comes from lips compressed in 
the tragedy of concealed self-contradiction. It may rouse 
horror if it comes chaotically from lips that wildly, 
heedlessly, unsuspectingly, show forth the contradiction. 
If it comes idly and glibly it is painful or disagreeable. 

He who speaks the separated I, with emphasis on the 
f 65 

capital, lays bare the shame of the world-spirit which 
has been degraded to spirituality. 

But how lovely and how fitting the sound of the 
lively and impressive I of Socrates ! It is the I of endless 
dialogue, and the air of dialogue is wafted around it in 
all its journeys, before the judges and in the last hour 
in prison. This I lived continually in the relation with 
man which is bodied forth in dialogue. It never ceased 
to believe in the reality of men, and went Qut to meet 
them. So it took its stand with them in reality, and 
reality forsakes it no more. Its very loneliness can 
never be forsakenness, and if the world of man is silent 
it hears the voice of the daimonion say Thou. 

How lovely and how legitimate the sound of the full 
I of Goethe ! It is the I of pure intercourse with nature ; 
nature gives herself to it and speaks unceasingly with it, 
revealing her mysteries to it but not betraying her 
mystery. It believes in her, and says to the rose, 
" Then thou art it " — then it takes its stand with it in a 
single reality. So the spirit of the real remains with 
it when it turns back to itself, the gaze of. the sun 
abides with the blessed eye that considers its own 
radiance, and the friendship of the elements accompanies 
the man into the stillness of dying and becoming. 

This is the sound through the ages of the " sufficient, 
true, and pure " saying of the I by those persons who, 
like Socrates and Goethe, are bound up in relation. 

And to anticipate by taking an illustration from the 
realm of unconditional relation : how powerful, even to 
being overpowering, and how legitimate, even to being 
self-evident, is the saying of I by Jesus ! For it is the 7 
of unconditional relation in which the man calls his Thou 


Father in* such a way that he himself is simply Son, 
and nothing else but Son. Whenever he says i* he can 
only mean the I of the holy primary word that has been 
raised for him into unconditional being. If separation 
ever touches him, his solidarity of relation is the greater ; 
he speaks to others only out of this solidarity. It is 
useless to seek to limit this I to a power in itself or this 
Thou to something dwelling in ourselves, and once again 
to empty the real, the present relation, of reality. I and 
Thou abide ; every man can say Thou and is then I, 
every man can say Father and is then Son : reality 


— But how if a man's mission require him to know 
nothing but connexion with his particular Cause, 
that is, no longer to know any real relation with or 
present realisation of a Thou — to have everything 
about him become an It, serving his particular Cause ? 
"What of Napoleon's saying of the J ? Is it not 
legitimate ? Is this phenomenon of experiencing and 
using not a person ? 

— Indeed the lord of the age manifestly did not know 
the dimension of the Thou. It has been justly ex- 
pressed in the words that all being was for him valore. 
He who indulgently compared with Peter the followers 
who denied him after his fall had no one whom he 
himself could have denied ; . for he had no one whom 
he recognised as a being. He was for millions the 
demonic Thou, the Thou that does not respond, that 
responds to Thou with It, that does not respond 
genuinely in the personal sphere but responds only in 
his own sphere, his particular Cause, with his own 


deeds. This demonic Thou> to which no one can 
become Thou, is the elementary barrier of history, 
where the basic word of connexion loses its reality, its 
character of mutual action. In addition to (not 
between) person and individual, free and self-willed 
man, there is this third, towering in times of destiny, 
fraught with destiny. Towards him everything flames, 
but his fire is cold. To him a thousand several 
relations lead, but from him none. He shares in no 
reality, but in him immeasurable share is taken as 
though in a reality. 

He sees the beings around him, indeed, as machines, 
capable of various achievements, which must be taken 
into account and utilised for the Cause. In this 
way, too, he sees himself — except that he must continu- 
ally ascertain anew by experiment his power of achieve- 
ment (whose limits he does not experience) : he treats 
himself, too, as an It. 

Thus, then, his saying of 7 is not a lively impressive, 
not a fall one ; but it is all the less a saying (like that of 
the modern individual) that deceives about these things. 
He does not speak of himself, but only " with himself 
as starting-point '\ The I that he utters and writes 
is the necessary subject for the sentences of his deter- 
minations and arrangements — no more and no less. It 
has no subjectivity, but it has also no self-consciousness 
concerned with its defined being, and thus all the more 
no illusion of the apparent self, " I am the clock, which 
exists, and does not know itself" — so he himself ex- 
pressed his destined being, the reality of this phenomenon 
and the unreality of this I, at the time when he was 
hurled from his Cause, and for the first time had, 


and dared, to speak and think of himself, and 
to take thought for his I — which now appeared for the 
first time. The I that appears is utot a mere subject, 
but neither does it move towards subjectivity ; freed 
from its enchantment, but not saved, it expresses itself 
in the fearful word that is as legitimate as it is 
illegitimate : " The universe beholds us ! " In the end 
it sinks back in mystery. 

Who would dare to assert, after such a course and 
such a fall, that this man understood his tremendous, 
prodigious mission — or that he misunderstood it? It 
is certain that the age, for which the demoniacal, with- 
out present, has become master and model, misunder- 
stands him. It does not know that what rule here are 
not lust for power and enjoyment of power, but destiny 
and consummation. It grows enthusiastic over this 
despotic brow, and has no suspicion of what signs are 
written across it, like the figures on the face of the 
clock. It industriously imitates this way of looking 
on living beings, without understanding its need and 
its necessity, and exchanges the rigorous attention 
of this J to the particular business for excited self- 
consciousness. The word " I " remains the shibboleth 
of mankind. Napoleon spoke it without power to enter 
into relation, but he spoke it as the J of a consummation. 
He who strives to say it as he said it only betrays the 
desperateness of his own self-contradiction. 

— What is self-contradiction ? 

— If a man does not represent the a priori of 
relation in his living with the world, if he does not 

work out and realise the inborn Thou on what meets it, 
then it strikes inwards. It develops on the unnatural, 
impossible object of the I, that is, it develops where 
there is no place at all for it to develop. Thus con- 
frontation of what is over against him takes place within 
himself, and this cannot be relation, or presence, or 
streaming interaction, but only self-contradiction. The 
man may seek to explain it as a relation, perhaps 
as a religious relation, in order to wrench himself from 
the horror of the inner double-ganger ; but he is bound to 
discover again and again the deception in the explana- 
tion. Here is the verge of life, flight of an unfulfilled life 
to the senseless semblance of fulfilment, and its groping 
in a maze and losing itself ever more profoundly. 

At times the man, shuddering at the alienation 
between the I and the world, comes to reflect that some- 
thing is to be done. As when in the grave night-hour 
you lie, racked by waking dream — bulwarks have fallen 
away and the abyss is screaming — and note amid your 
torment : there is still life, if orjly I got through to it — 
but how, how ? ; so is this man in the hours of 
reflection, shuddering, and aimlessly considering this 
and that. And perhaps, away in the unloved know- 
ledge of the depths within him, he really knows the 
direction of reversal, leading through sacrifice. But he 
spurns this knowledge ; " mysticism " cannot resist the 
sun of electric light. He calls thought, in which he rightly 
has great confidence, to his aid ; it shall make good 
everything for him again. It is, in truth, the high art 
of thought to paint a reliable picture of the world 


that is even worthy of belief- So this man 
says to his thought, " You see this thing stretched out 
here with the cruel eyes — was it not my playfellow once ? 
You know how it laughed at me then with these very- 
eyes, and they had good in them then ? And you see 
my wretched I — I will confess to you, it is empty, and 
whatever I do in myself, as a result of experiencing 
and using, does not fathom its emptiness. Will you 
make it up between me and it, so that it leaves off and I 
recover % " And thought, ready with its service and its 
art, paints with its well-known speed one — no, two 
rows of pictures, on the right wall and on the left. On 
the one there is (or rather, there takes place, for the 
world-pictures of thought are reliable cinematography) 
the universe. The tiny earth plunges from the whirling 
stars, tiny man from the teeming earth, and now history 
bears him further through the ages, to rebuild per- 
sistently the ant-hill of the cultures which history 
crushes underfoot. Beneath the row of pictures is 
written : " One and all." On the other wall there 
takes place the soul. A spinner is spinning the orbits 
of all stars and the life of all creation and the history 
of the universe ; everything is woven on one thread, 
and is no longer called stars and creation and universe, 
but sensations and imaginings, or even experiences, and 
conditions of the soul. And beneath the row of pictures 
is written : " One and all." 

Thenceforth, if ever the man shudders at the aliena- 
tion, and the world strikes terror in his heart, he looks 
up (to right or left, just as it may chance) and sees a 
picture. There he sees that the I is embedded in the 
world and that there is really no I at all — so the world 


can do nothing to the I, and he is put at ease ; or he 
sees that the world is embedded in the I, and that there 
is really no world at all — so the world can do nothing to 
the Z, and he is put at ease. Another time, if the man 
shudders at the alienation, and the I strikes terror in 
his heart, he looks up and sees a picture ; which picture 
he sees does not matter, the empty I is stuffed full with 
the world or the stream of the world flows over it, and 
he is put at ease. 

But a moment comes, and it is near, when the 
shuddering man looks up and sees both pictures in a 
flash together. And a deeper shudder seizes him. 



The extended lines of relations H^t^p^&e etarn^F 

Every particular Thou is a glimpse thrBl^KQjnj&S 
eternal Thou ; by means of every particular T^P^re^ 
primary word addresses the eternal Thou. Through 
this mediation of the Thou of all beings fulfilment, and 
non-fulfilment, of relations comes to them : the inborn 
Thou is realised in each relation and consummated in 
none. It is consummated only in the direct relation 
with the Thou that by its nature cannot become It. 

Men have addressed their eternal Thou with many 
names. In singing of HiW who was thus named they 
always had the Thou in rirind : the first myths were 
hymns of praise. Then the names took refuge in the 
language of It ; men were more and more strongly 
moved to think of and to address their eternal Thou 
as an It But all God's names are hallowed, for in them 
He is not merely spoken about, but also spoken to. 

Many men wish to reject the word God as a legitimate 
usage, because it is so misused. It is indeed the most 
heavily laden of all the words used by men. For that 
very reason it is the most imperishable and most indis- 
pensable. What does all mistaken talk about God's 
being and works (though there has been, and can be, no 
other talk about these) matter in comparison with the one 
truth that all men who have addressed God had God 
Himself in mind ? For he who speaks the word God 
and really has Thou in mind (whatever the illusion by 


which he is held), addresses the true Thou of his life, 
which cannot be limited by another Thou, and to which 
he stands in a relation that gathers up and includes all 

But when he, too, who abhors the name, and believes 
himself to be godless, gives his whole being to addressing 
the Thou of his life, as a Thou that cannot be limited by 
another, he addresses God. 

If we go on our way and meet a man who has 
advanced towards us and has also gone on his way, we 
know only our part of the way, not his — his we experi- 
ence only in the meeting. 

Of the complete relational event we know, with the 
knowledge of life lived, our going out to the relation, 
our part of the way. The other part only comes upon 
us, we do not know it ; it eomes upon us in the meeting. 
But we strain ourselves on it if we speak of it as though 
it were some thing beyond the meeting. 

We have to be concerned, to be troubled, not about 
the other side but about our own side, not about grace 
but about will. Grace concerns us in so far as we go 
out to it and persist in its presence ; but it is not our 

What we know of the way froih the life that we 
have lived, from our life, is not a waiting or a being 

The Thou confronts me. But I step into direct relation 
with it. Hence the relation means being chosen and 
choosing, suffering and action in one ; just as any action 
of the whole being which means the suspension of all 

partial actions, and consequently of all -sensations of 
actions grounded only in their particular limitation, is 
bound to resemble suffering. 

This is the activity of the man who has become a 
whole being, an activity that has been termed doing 
nothing : nothing separate or partial stirs in the man 
any more, thus he makes no intervention in the world ; 
it is the whole man, enclosed and at rest in his wholeness, 
that is effective — he has become an effective whole. 
To have won stability in this state is to be able to go out 
to the supreme meeting. 

To this end the world of sense does not need to be 
laid aside as though it were illusory. There is no illusory 
world, there is only the world — which appears to us as 
twofold in accordance with our twofold attitude. Only 
the barrier of separation has to be destroyed. Further, 
no " going beyond sense-experience " is necessary ; 
for every experience, even the most spiritual, could yield 
us only an It. Nor is any recourse necessary to a world 
of ideas and values ; for they cannot become presentness 
for us. None of these things is necessary. Can it be 
said what really is necessary ? — Not in the sense of a 
precept. For everything that has ever been devised and 
contrived in the time of the human spirit as precept, 
alleged preparation, practice, or meditation, has nothing 
to do with the primal, simple fact of the meeting. 
Whatever the advantages in knowledge or. the wielding 
of power for which we have to thank this or that practice, 
none of this affects the meeting of which we are speaking ; 
it all has its place in the world of It and does not lead 
one step, does not take the step, out of it. Going out 
to the relation cannot be taught in the sense of precepts 


being given. It can only be indicated by the drawing 
of a circle which excludes everything that is not this 
going out. Then the one thing that matters is visible, 
full acceptance of the present. 

To be sure, this acceptance presupposes that the 
farther a man has wandered in separated being the more 
difficult is the venture and the more elemental the 
reversal. This does not mean a giving up of, say, the 
I, as mystical writings usually suppose : the I is as 
indispensable to this, the supreme, as to every relation, 
since relation is only possible between I and Thou. 
It is not the I, then, that is given up, but that false 
self-asserting instinct that makes a man flee to the 
possessing of things before the unreliable, perilous world 
of relation which has neither density nor duration and 
cannot be surveyed. 


Every real relation with a being or life in the world is 
exclusive. Its Thou is freed, steps forth, is single, and 
confronts you. It fills the heavens. This does not mean 
that nothing else exists ; but all else lives in its light. 
As long as the presence of the relation continues, this 
its cosmic range is inviolable. But as soon as a Thou 
becomes It, the cosmic range of the relation appears as 
an offence to the world, its exclusiveness as an exclusion 
of the universe. 

In the relation with God unconditional exclusiveness 
and unconditional inclusiveness are one. He who 
enters on the absolute relation is concerned with nothing 
isolated any more, neither things nor beings, neither 
earth nor heaven ; but everything is gathered up in the 


relation. For to step into pure relation is not to disregard 
everything but to see everything in the Thou, not to 
renounce the world but to establish it on its true basis. 
To look away from the world, or to stare at it, does 
not help a man to reach God ; but he who sees the world 
in Him stands in His presence. " Here world, there 
God " is the language of It ; " God in the world " is 
another language of It ; but to eliminate or leave behind 
nothing at all, to include the whole world in the Thou, 
to give the world its due and its truth, to include nothing 
beside God but everything in Him — this is full and 
complete relation. 

Men do not find God if they stay in the world. They 
do not find Him if they leave the world. He who goes 
out with his whole being to meet his Thou and carries to 
it all being that is in the world, finds Him who cannot 
be sought. 

Of course God is the " wholly Other " ; but He is also 
the wholly Same, the wholly Present. Of course He is 
the Mysterium Tremendum that appears and overthrows ; 
but He is also the mystery of the self-evident, nearer to 
me than my Z. 

If you explore the life of things and of conditioned being 
you come to the unfathomable, if you deny the life of 
things and of conditioned being you stand before nothing- 
ness, if you hallow this life you meet the living God. 

Man's sense of Thou, which experiences in the re- 
lations with every particular Thou the disappointment 
of the change to It, strives out but not away from 
them all to its eternal Thou ; but not as some- 


thing is sought: actually there is no such thing as 
seeking God, for there is nothing in which He could not * 
be found. How foolish and hopeless would be the 
man who turned aside from the course of his life in 
order to seek God ; even though he won all the wisdom 
of solitude and all the power of concentrated being he 
would miss God. Bather is it as when a man goes 
his way and simply wishes that it might be the way : 
in the strength of his wish his striving is expressed. 
Every relational event is a stage that affords him a 
glimpse intp the consummating event. So in each 
event he does not partake, but also (for he is waiting) 
does partake, of the one event. Waiting, not 
seeking, he goes his way; hence he is composed 
before all things, and makes contact with them which 
helps them. But when he has found, his heart is not 
turned from them, though everything now meets him 
in the one event. He blesses every cell that sheltered 
him, and every cell into which he will yet turn. For 
this finding is not the end, but only the eternal middle, 
of the way. 

It is a finding without seeking, a discovering of the 
primal, of origin. His sense of Thou, which cannot be 
satiated till he finds the endless Thou, had the Thou 
present to it from the beginning ; the presence had only 
to become wholly real to him in the reality of the 
hallowed life of the world. 

God cannot be inferred in anything — in nature, say, 
as its author, or in history as its master, or in the 
subject as the self that is thought in it. Something else 
is not " given " and God then elicited from it ; but God 
is the Being that is directly, most nearly, and lastingly, 


over against us, that may properly onfy be addressed, 
not expressed. 


Men -wish to regard a feeling (called feeling of de- 
pendence, and recently, more * precisely, creaturely 
feeling) as the real element in the relation with God. In 
proportion as the isolation and definition of this element 
is accurate, its unbalanced emphasis only makes the 
character of complete relation the more misunderstood. 

What has already been said of love is even more 
unshakably valid here. Feelings are a mere accom- 
paniment to the metaphysical and metapsychical fact 
of the relation, which is fulfilled not in the soul but 
between I and Thou* A feeling may be considered 
ever so essential, it remains nevertheless subject to the 
dynamic of the soul, where one feeling is outstripped, 
outdone, and abolished by another. In distinction 
from relation a feeling has its place in a scale. But 
above all, every feeling has its place within a polar 
tension, obtaining its colour and significance not from 
itself alone, but also from the opposite pole: every 
feeling is conditioned by its opposite. Thus the 
absolute relation (which gathers up into reality all those 
that are relative, and is no more a part, as these are, 
but is the whole that completes and unifies them all), 
in being reduced to the status of art. isolated and 
limited feeling, is made into a relative psychological 

If the soul is the starting-point of our consideration, 
complete relation can be understood only in a bipolar 
way, only as the coinddentia oppositorum, as the 
g 81 

coincidence of oppositions of feeling. Of course, the 
one pole — suppressed by the person's basic religious 
attitude — often disappears from the reflective conscious- 
ness, and can only be recalled in the purest and most 
ingenuous consideration of the depths of the being. 

Yes ; in pure relation you have felt yourself to be 
simply dependent, as you are able to feel in no other 
relation — and simply free, too, as in no other time or 
place : you have felt yourself to be both creaturely and 
creative. You had the one feeling then no longer 
limited by the other, but you had both of them limit- 
lessly and together. 

You know always in your heart that you need God 
more than everything ; but do you not know too that 
God needs you — in the fulness of His eternity needs 
you ? How would man be, how would you be, if God 
did not need him, did not need you % . You need God, 
in order to be — and God needs you, for the very mean- 
ing of your life. In instruction and in poems men 
are at pains to say more, and they say too much — 
what turgid and presumptuous talk that is about the 
" God who becomes " ; but we know unshakably in 
our hearts that there is a becoming of the God that is. 
The world is not divine sport, it is divine destiny. 
There is divine meaning in the life of the world, of man, 
of human persons, of you and of me. 

Creation happens to us, burns itself into us, recasts 
us in burning — we tremble and are faint, we submit. 
We take part in creation, meet the Creator, reach 
out to Him, helpers and companions. 

Two great servants pace through the ages, prayer and 
sacrifice. The man who prays pours himself out in 


unrestrained dependence, and knows tliat lie has — in an 
incomprehensible way — an effect upon God, even though 
he obtains nothing from God ; for when he no longer 
desires anything for himself he sees the flame of his 
effect burning at its highest. —And the man who makes 
sacrifice ? I cannot despise him, this upright servant of 
former times, who believed that God yearned for the 
scent of his burnt-offering. In a foolish but powerful 
way he knew that we can and ought to give to God. 
This is known by him, too, who offers up his little will 
to God and meets Him in the grand will. " Thy will be 
done," he says, and says no more ; but truth adds for 
him " through me whom Thou needest ". 

What distinguishes sacrifice and prayer from all 
magic ? — Magic desires to obtain its effects without 
entering into relation, and practises its tricks in the 
void. But sacrifice and prayer are set " before the Face", 
in the consummation of the holy primary word that 
means mutual action : they speak the Thou, and 
then they hear. 

To wish to understand pure relation as dependence 
is to wish to empty one of the bearers of the relation, 
and hence the relation itself, of reality. 

The same thing happens if we begin from the opposite 
side and look on absorption, or entering, into the Self 
(whether by means of the Self's deliverance from all being 
that is conditioned by 7, or by its being understood as 
the One thinking Essence) as the essential .element in 
the religious act. By the first way of looking on the 
act it is imagined that God enters the being that is freed 


from Z, or that this being is merged in God ; by the 
second, that the being takes its stand directly in itself 
as though it were in the divine One. That is, by the 
first way, in a supreme moment the saying of the Thou 
ceases, for there is no more twofold being, and by the 
second the saying of the Thou does not in truth exist at 
all, for there is in truth no twofold being : the first way 
believes in the unification, the second in the identification 
of the human with the divine. Both assert a state that 
is beyond I and Thou, the first — as in ecstasy — one that 
becomes, the second — as in the self-observation of the 
tKnkiag subject — one that is and that reveals itself. 
Both abolish relation, the first as it were dynamically, 
through the swallowing up of the I by the Thou — 
which is, however, no longer Hhou, but that which alone 
is — and the second as it were statically through the self- 
recognition of the I, which has been freed andhas become 
the Self, as that which alone is. If the doctrine of depend- 
ence considers the J that bears the span of pure relation 
in the world to be so weak and empty that its ability 
to bear it is no longer credible, the one doctrine of 
absorption causes the span of relation to disappear at 
its consummation, the other treats it as a delusion to be 

The doctrines of absorption appeal to the great 
sayings of identification, the one above all to the Johan- 
nine " I and the Father are one ", the other to the teaching 
of Sandilya : " The all-embracing, this is my Self in 
my very heart ". 

The ways these sayings lead are opposed tooneanother. 
The first arises (after a subterranean course) in the life 
of a person of mythical proportions and advances to 


a doctrine, the second emerges in a doctrine and 
only then leads to the mythical life of a person. 
The character of the saying is transformed along these 
lines. The Christ of the Johannine tradition, the Word 
that once became flesh, leads to the Christ of Eckehardt, 
perpetually begotten by God in the human soul. The 
coronation formula for the Self in the Upanishad, 
" This is the real, the Self, and Thou art the Self", 
leads in a much shorter space to the Buddhistic formula 
of dethronement, " It is not possible to lay hold of a 
Self and a Self-appertaining in truth and in reality ". 

The beginning and end of each way demand separate 

That the appeal to the %v eo-jiep cannot be substan- 
tiated becomes clear to all who read impartially, section 
by section, the Gospel according to John. It is really 
the Gospel of pure relation. Here is a truer verse than 
the familiar mystical verse : "I am Thou and Thou art 
I ". The Father and the Son, like in being — we may even 
say God and Man, like in being — are the indissolubly 
real pair, the two bearers of the primal relation, which 
from God to man is termed mission and command, 
from man to God looking and hearing, and between 
both is termed knowledge and love. In this relation 
the Son, though the Father dwells and works in him, 
bows down before the " greater " and prays to him. 
All modern attempts to interpret this primal reality of 
dialogue as a relation of the I to the Self, or the like — 
as an event that is contained within the self-sufficient 
interior life of man — are futile : they take their place in 
the abysmal history of destruction of reality. 

— But what of mysticism? Does it not inform us 


how unity without duality is experienced ? May we 
dispute the truth of its account ? 

— I know not of a single but of two kinds of happening 
in which duality is no longer experienced. These are 
at times confused in mystical utterances — I too once 
confused them. 

The one is the soul's becoming a unity. That is some- 
thing that takes place not between man and God, but 
in man. Power is concentrated, everything that tries 
to divert it is drawn into the orbit of its mastery, the 
being is alone in itself and rejoices, as Paracelsus says, 
in its exaltation. This is the decisive moment for a man. 
Without it he is unfit for the work of the spirit ; with 
it, he decides, in his innermost being, if this means 
a breathing-space, or the sufficient end of his way. 
Concentrated in unity, he can go out to the meeting, 
to which he has only now drawn quite close, with the 
mystery, with salvation. But he can also enjoy to the 
full this blessed concentration of his being, and without 
entering on the supreme duty fall back into dissipation 
of being. — Everything on our way involves decision, 
purposive, dimly seen, wholly mysterious : this in the 
innermost being is the primal mysterious decision, 
carrying the mightiest consequences for our destiny. 

The other happening- lies in the unfathomable nature 
of the relational act itself, in which two, it is imagined, 
become one : " one and one united, bareness shines there 
into bareness *\ I and Thou are absorbed, humanity, 
which just before confronted the godhead, is merged 
in it — glorification, deification, and singleness of being 
have appeared. But when the man, illuminated and 
exhausted, falls back into the cares of earthly affairs, 


and with knowledge in his heart thinks of the two 
situations, is he not bound to find that his being is 
split asunder and one part given to perdition ? What 
does it help my soul that it can be withdrawn anew from 
this world here into unity, when this world itself has of 
necessity no part in the unity — what does all " enjoy- 
ment of God " profit a life that is rent in two ? If that 
abundantly rich heavenly moment has nothing to do 
with my poor earthly moment — what has it then to 
do with me, who have still to live, in all seriousness still 
to live, on earth ? Thus are the masters to be under- 
stood who have renounced the raptures of ecstatic 
" union ". 

Union that was no union : as illustration I take the 
men who in the passion of the engrossing Eros are so 
enraptured by the miracle of the embrace that their 
knowledge of I and Thou perishes in the feeling of a 
unity that does not and cannot exist. What the 
ecstatic man calls union is the enrapturing dynamic of 
relation, not a unity arisen in this moment of the 
world's time that dissolves the I and the Thou, but the 
dynamic of relation itself, which can put itself before 
its bearers as they steadily confront one another, and 
cover each from the feeling of the other enraptured one. 
Here, then, on the brink, the relational act goes beyond 
itself ; the relation itself in its vital unity is felt so 
forcibly that its parts seem to fade before it, and in the 
force of its life, the / and the Thou, between which it is 
established, are forgotten. Here is one of the phenomena 
of the. brink to which reality extends and at which it 
grows dim. But the central reality of the everyday hour 
on earth, with a streak of sun on a maple twig and the 


glimpse of the eternal Thou, is greater for us than all 
enigmatic webs on the brink of being. 

This will, however, be opposed by the claim of the 
other doctrine of absorption that universal being and 
self-being are the same and that therefore no saying 
of the Thou is able td yield final reality. 

This claim is answered by the doctrine itself. One 
of the Upanishads tells how Indra, the prince of the 
gods, comes to Prajapati, the creative spirit, in order 
to learn how the Self is found and recognised. For a 
hundred years he is a pupil, is twice dismissed with in- 
sufficient information, till finally the right information 
is given him : " If a man, sunk in deep sleep, rests 
dreamlessly, this is the Self, the Immortal, the Assured, 
the Universal Being." Indra departs, but soon a 
thought surprises him. He turns back and asks : " In 
such a condition, O Exalted One, a man does not know 
of his Self that 'This is I', and that * these are 
beings'. He is gone to annihilation. I see nothing 
propitious here", —"That", replies Prajapati, "is 
indeed so ". 

In so far as the doctrine contains an affirmation 
about true being — however the matter stands with 
its content of truth, which cannot be ascertained in this 
life — it has nothing in common with one thing, with 
lived reality ; for it is bound to reduce this too to the 
world of appearances. In so far, too, as the doctrine 
contains guidance for absorption in true being, it leads 
not to lived reality but to " annihilation", where no 
consciousness reigns and whence no memory leads ; the 
man who has emerged from this annihilation may 
still propose, as representing his experience, the 


limiting words " absence of duality " ; lie does not dare 
to call it unity. 

But we with holy care wish to foster the holy good 
of our reality, that is gifted to us for this and perhaps 
for no other life that is nearer truth. 

In lived reality there is no unity of being. Reality 
exists only in effective action, its power and depth 
in power and depth of effective action. "Inner" 
reality, too, exists only if there is mutual action. The 
most powerful and the deepest reality exists where 
everything enters into the effective action, without 
reserve the whole man and God the all-embracing — the 
united I and the boundless Thou. 

The united I : for in lived reality there is (as I have 
already said) the becoming one of the soul, the con- 
centration of power, the decisive moment for a man. 
But this does not involve, like that absorption, dis- 
regard of the real person. Absorption wishes to pre- 
serve only the " pure ", the real, the lasting, and to cast 
away everything else; but in this concentration the 
instinctive is not thought too impure, the sensuous is 
not thought too remote from its course, what is con- 
cerned with emotion is not thought too. fleeting : every- 
thing must be gathered into the orbit of its mastery. 
This concentration does not desire the self that is set 
apart, but the whole, unimpaired man. It aims at, 
and is, reality. 

The doctrine of absorption demands, and promises, 
refuge in the One thinking Essence (" that by which this 
world is thought "), refuge in pure Subject. But in lived 
reality there is not something thinking without some- 
thing thought, rather is the thinking no less dependent 


on the tiing thought than the latter on the former. A 
subject deprived of its object is deprived of its reality. 
Something thinking in itself alone exists— in thought : 
first, as its product and object, as a limiting idea -without 
an imaginable subject ; secondly, by anticipation, in the 
definition of death, which can be replaced by its likeness 
of the deep sleep, which is just as impenetrable ; and 
lastly, in the affirmation of the doctrine concerning a 
condition of absorption, resembling deep sleep, which 
is by nature without consciousness and memory. 
These are the loftiest peaks of the language of It. The 
sublime strength of their disregard must be respected, 
and in the very glance of respect recognised as what is, 
at most, to be experienced, but not to be lived. 

The Buddha, the " fulfilled " and the fulfiller, makes 
no affirmation on this point. He refuses to assert that 
unity exists or that it does not exist, that he who has 
passed all the tests of absorption exists after death in 
unity or that he does not exist in unity. This refusal, 
this " noble silence ", is explained in two ways : one, 
theoretical, because fulfilment is beyond the categories 
of thought and expression ; and two, practical, because 
disclosure of the existence of fulfilment does not estab- 
lish a true life of salvation. Combination of the two 
explanations indicates the truth that he who treats 
what is as an object of assertion pulls it into division, 
into the antithetics of the world of It, where there is no 
life of salvation. " If, monk, the opinion dominates 
that soul and body are one in being, there is no life of 
salvation ; if, O monk, the opinion dominates that the 
soul is one and the body another, then too there is no 
life of salvation ". In the mystery that is observed as 


in the reality that is lived, " It is thus " and " It is not 
thus ", being aoid non-being, do not reign ; but " thus 
and otherwise ", being and non-being at once, the un- 
fathomable — this reigns. The primal condition of 
salvation is undivided confrontation of the undivided 
mystery. It is certain that the Buddha is of those who 
have known this. Like all true teachers he does not 
wish to impart an opinion, but to teach the way. He 
denies only one assertion, that of the '* fools", who say 
there is no action, no deed, no power, and says " Men 
can walk in the way ". He ventures only one assertion, 
which is decisive : " There is, O Monks, an Un- 
born, neither become nor created nor formed ". If there 
were not this, there would be no goal ; there is this, the 
way has a goal. 

Loyal to the truth of our meeting, we can follow the 
Buddha as far as this, but a step further would be 
disloyalty to the reality of our life. 

For we know, from the truth and reality that we do not 
extract from ourselves but which is given for us to share 
in, that if the goal described by the Buddha is only one 
of the goals, then it cannot Ha ours, and if it is the goal, 
then it is falsely described ; and also, if it is one of the 
goals, the way may lead as far as it, and if it is the goal, 
the way leads, at most, nearer to it. 

The Buddha describes as the goal the " cessation of 
pain ", that is of becoming and passing away — release 
from the cycle of births. ' c Henceforth there is no return ' 5 
is the formula of the man who has freed himself from the 
appetite for living and thus from the necessity to become 
ever anew. We do not know if there is a return ; we 
do not extend beyond this life the lines of this time- 


dimension in which we live, and do not seek to expose 
what will be disclosed to us in its own time and disposition. 
But if we did know that there is a return we would not 
seek to escape it, and we would long not indeed for 
gross being but for the power to speak, in each existence 
in its own way and language, the eternal I that passes 
away, and the eternal Thou that does not pass away. 

We do not know if the Buddha actually leads to the 
goal of release from the necessity of returning. He 
certainly leads to a preliminary goal that concerns us — 
to the becoming one of the soul. But he leads thither 
not merely (as is necessary) apart from the " thicket of 
opinions ", but also apart from the " illusion of forms " — 
which for us is no illusion but rather the reliable world 
(and this in spite of all subjective paradoxes in observa- 
tion connected with it for us). His way, too, then, involves 
disregard ; thus when he- speaks of our becoming aware 
of the events in our body he means almost the opposite 
of our physical insight with its certainty about the senses. 
Nor does he lead the united being farther to that supreme 
saying .of the Thou that is made possible for it. His 
innermost decision seems to rest on the extinction of 
the ability to say Thou. 

The Buddha knows the saying of the Thou to men — 
witness his intercourse with his pupils, in which, though 
high above them, he speaks very directly — but he does 
not teach it ; for simple confrontation of being with 
being is alien to this love where " all that has become 
is illimitably comprised in the breast ". He certainly 
knows too, in the silent depths of his being, the saying 
of the Thou to the primal cause — away beyond all those 
"gods" that are treated by him like pupils. This act 

of his springs from a relational event that has taken on 
substance ; this act, too, is a response to the Thou : but 
about this response he preserves silence. 

His succession among the peoples, however, that 
" great vehicle ", has contradicted him magnificently. 
It has addressed the eternal human Thou under the 
name of Buddha himself. And it awaits, as the 
Buddah that is to come, the last of the age, him by 
whom love is to be fulfilled. 

All doctrine of absorption is based on the colossal 
illusion of the human spirit that is bent back on itself, 
that spirit exists in man. Actually spirit exists with 
man as starting-point — between man and that which is 
not man. In renouncing this its meaning, its meaning 
as relation, the spirit that is bent back on itself is 
compelled to drag into man that which is not man, it 
is compelled to make the world and God into functions of 
the soul. This is the spirit's illusion about the soul. 

" Friend ", says the Buddha, " I proclaim that in this 
my fathom-high ascetic's body, affected with sensations, 
there dwells the world and the beginning of the world 
and the extinction of the world and the way that leads 
to the extinction of the world ". 
That is true, but in the last resort it is no longer true. 
Certainly the world " dwells " in me as an image, 
just as I dwell in it as a thing. But it is not for that 
reason in me, just as I am not in it. The world and I 
are mutually included, the one in the other. This 
contradiction in thought, inherent in the situation of 
It, is resolved in the situation of Thou, which sets 
me fuee from the world in order to bind me up in 
solidarity of connexion with it. 


I bear within me the sense of Self, tliat cannot 
be included in the world. The world bears within 
itself the sense of being, that cannot be included 
in the image. This sense of being, however, is 
not a " will " that can be thought, but simply the 
total status of the world as world, just as the 
sense of Self is not a "knowing subject" but 
simply the total status of the I as I. Here no further 
" reduction " is possible ; he who does not honour the 
last unities frustrates their apprehensible but not 
comprehensible sense. 

The beginning and the extinction of the world are 
not in me ; but they are also not outside me ; they 
cannot be said to be at all, they are a continuous happen- 
ing, connected with and dependent on me, my life, my 
decision, my work, and my service. But they do depend 
not on whether I " affirm " or " deny " the world in 
my soul, but on how I cause my attitude of soul to the 
world to grow to life, to life that acts upon the world, 
to real life — and in real life the ways of very different 
attitudes of soul may intersect. But he who merely 
"experiences 5 * his attitude, merely consummates it 
in the soul, however thoughtfully, is without the world — 
and all the tricks, .arts, ecstasies, enthusiasms, and 
mysteries that are in him do not even ripple the skin of 
the world. So long as a man is set free only in his Self he 
can do the world neither weal nor woe ; he does not 
concern the world. Only he who believes in the world 
is given power to enter into dealings with it, and if he 
gives himself to this he cannot remain godless. If only 
we love the real world, that will not let itself be extin- 
guished, really in its horror, if only we venture 


to surround it with the arms of our spirit, our hands will 
meet hands that grip them. 

I know nothing of a " world " and a " life in the 
world " that might separate a man from God. What 
is thus described is actually life with an alienated 
world of 7^, which experiences and uses. He who truly 
goes out to meet the world goes out also to God. Con- 
centration and outgoing are necessary, both in truth, at 
once the one and the other, which is the One. 

God comprises, but is not, the universe. So, too, God 
comprises, but is not, my Self. In view of the 
inadequacy of any language about this fact, I can say 
Thou in my language as each man can in his, in view 
of this I and Thou live, and dialogue and spirit and 
language (spirit's primal act), and the Word in eternity. 

Man's religious situation, his being there in the Pres- 
ence, is characterised by its essential and indissoluble 
antinomy. The nature of its being determines that 
this antinomy is indissoluble. He who accepts the 
thesis and rejects the antithesis does injury to the 
significance of the situation. He who tries to think out a 
synthesis destroys the significance of the situation. He 
who strives to make the antinomy into a relative 
matter abolishes the significance of the situation. He who 
wishes to carry through the conflict of the antinomy other 
than with his life transgresses the significance of the 
situation. The significance of the situation is that it is 
lived, and nothing but lived, continually, ever anew, 
without foresight, without forethought, without pre- 
scription, in the totality of its antinomy. 


Comparison of the religious with the philosophical 
antinomy will make this clear. Kant may make the 
philosophical conflict between necessity and freedom 
into a relative matter by assigning the former to the 
world of appearances and the latter to the world of 
being, so that in their two settings they are no longer 
really opposed, but rather reconciled — just as the 
worlds for which they are valid are reconciled. But if I 
consider necessity and freedom not in worlds of thought 
but in the reality of my standing before God, if I know 
that " I am given over for disposal " and know at the 
same time that " It depends on myself", then I cannot 
try to escape the paradox that has to be lived by 
assigning the irreconcilable propositions to two separate 
realms of validity ; nor can I be helped to an ideal 
reconciliation by any theological device : but I am 
compelled to take both to myself, to be lived together, 
and in being lived they are one. 

An animal's eyes have the power to speak a great 
language. Independently, without needing co-opera- 
tion of sounds and gestures, most forcibly when they 
rely wholly on their glance, the eyes express the mystery 
in its natural prison, the anadety of becoming. 
This condition of the mystery is known only by the 
t animal, it alone can disclose it to us — and this con- 
dition only lets itself be disclosed, not fully revealed. 
The language in which it is uttered is what it says — 
anxiety, the movement of the creature between the 
realms of vegetable security and spiritual venture. 
This language is the stammering of nature at the first 


touch of spirit, before it yields to spirit's cosmic venture 
that we call man. But no speech will ever repeat what 
that stammering knows and can proclaim. 

Sometimes I look into a cat's eyes. The domesti- 
cated animal has not as it were received from us (as 
we sometimes imagine) the gift of the truly " speaking " 
glance, but only — at the price of its primitive disin- 
terestedness — the capacity to turn its glance to us 
prodigious beings. But with this capacity there enters 
the glance, in its dawn and continuing in its rising, a 
quality of amazement and of inquiry that is wholly 
lacking in the original glance with all its anxiety. 
The beginning of this cat's glance, lighting up under 
the touch of my glance, indisputably questioned me : 
" Is it possible that you think of me ? Do you really 
not just want me to have fun ? Do I concern you ? 
Do I exist in your sight ? Do I really exist ? What 
is it that comes from you ? What is it that surrounds 
me? What is it that comes to me? Whatisit?" ("I" 
is here a transcription for a word, that we do not have, 
denoting self without the ego ; and by " it " is to be 
imagined the streaming human glance in the total 
reality of its power to enter into relation.) The 
animal's glance, speech of disquietude, rose in its 
greatness — and set at once* My own glance was 
certainly more lasting; but it was no longer the 
streaming human glance. 

The rotation of the world which introduced the 
relational event had been followed almost immediately 
by the other which ended it. The world, of It sur- 
rounded the animal and myself, for the space of a 
glance the world of Thou had shone out from the 


depths, to be at once extinguished and put back into 
the world of It. 

I relate this tiny episode, which I have experienced 
several times, for the sake of the speech of this almost 
unnoticeable sunrise and sunset of the spirit. In no 
other speech have I known so profoundly the fleeting 
nature of actuality in all its relations with being, the 
exalted melancholy of our fate, the change, heavy with 
destiny, of every isolated Thou into an It. For other 
events possessed between morning and evening their 
day, even though it might be brief; but here morning 
and evening flowed pitilessly mingled together, the 
bright Thou appeared and was gone. Had the burden 
of the world of It really been removed for the space of 
a glance from the animal and from myself? I myself 
could continue to think about the matter, but the 
animal had sunk back out of the stammer of its glance 
into the disquietude where there is no speech and almost 
no memory. 

How powerful is the unbroken world of It> and how 
delicate are the appearances of the Thou I 

So much can never break through the crust of 
the condition of things ! fragment of mica, 
looking on which I once learned, for the first time, 
that I is not something " in me " — with you I was 
nevertheless only bound up in myself; at that time 
the event took place only in me, not between me and 
you. But when one that is alive rises out of things, 
and becomes a being in relation to me, joined to me 
by its nearness and its speech, for how inevitably short 
a time is it nothing to me but Thou ! It is not the 
relation that necessarily grows feeble, but the actuality 


of its immediacy. Love itself cannot persist in the 
immediacy of relation ; love endures, but in the inter- 
change of actual and potential being. Every Thou in 
the world is enjoined by its nature to become a thing 
for us, or at all events to re-enter continually the 
condition of things. 

Only in one, all-embracing relation is potential still 
actual being. Only one Thou never ceases by its nature 
to be Thou for us. He who knows God knows also very 
well remoteness from God, and the anguish of barrenness 
in the tormented heart; but he does not know the 
absence of God : it is we only who are not always 

The lover in the Vita Nuova rightly and properly 
says for the most part Ella and only at times Voi. 
The spectator of the Paradiso, when he says Colui> 
speaks from poetic necessity, and knows it. If God is 
addressed as He or It, it is always allegorically. But 
if we say Thou to Him, then mortal sense has set the 
unbroken truth of the world into a word. 

Every real relation in the world is exclusive, the 
Other breaks in on it and avenges its exclusion. Only 
in the relation with God are unconditioned exclusiveness 
and unconditioned inclusiveness one and tie same, 
in which the whole universe is implied. 

Every real relation in the world rests on individuation, 
this is its joy — for only in this way is mutual knowledge 
of different beings won — and its limitation — for in this 
way perfect knowledge and being known are foregone. 
But in the perfect relation my Thou comprehends but is 

not my Self, my limited knowledge opens out into a 
state in which I am boundlessly known. 

Every real relation in the world is consummated in 
the interchange of actual and potential being ; every 
isolated Thou is bound to enter the chrysalis state of 
the It in order to take wings anew. But in pure relation . 
potential being is simply actual being as it draws breath, 
and in it the Thou remains present. By its nature the 
eternal Thou is eternally Thou ; only our nature compels 
us to draw it into the world and the talk of It. 

The world of It is set in the context of space and time. 

The world of Thou is not set in the context of either 
of these. 

Its context is in the Centre, where the extended lines 
of relations meet — in the eternal Thou. 

In the great privilege of pure relation the privileges 
of the world of It are abolished. By virtue of this 
privilege there exists the unbroken world of Thou : 
the isolated moments of relations are bound up in a life 
of world solidarity . By virtue of this privilege formative 
power belongs to the world of Thou : spirit can penetrate 
and transform the world of It. By virtue of this privilege 
we are not given up to alienation from the world and the 
loss of reality by the I — to domination by the ghostly. 
Eeversal is the recognition of the Centre and the act of 
turning again to it. In this act of the being the buried 
relational power* of man rises again, the wave that 
carries all the spheres of relation swells in living streams 
to give new life to our world. 

Perhaps not to our world alone. For this double 

movement, of estrangement from the primal Source, in 
virtue of which the universe is sustained in the process 
of becoming, and of turning towards the primal Source, 
in virtue of which the universe is released in being, may 
be perceived as the metacosmical primal form that 
dwells in the world as a whole in its relation to that 
which is not the world — form whose twofold nature is 
represented among men by the twofold nature of their 
attitudes, their primary words, and their aspects of the 
world. Both parts of this movement develop, fraught 
with destiny, in time, and are compassed by grace in 
the timeless creation that is, incomprehensibly, at once 
emancipation and preservation, release and binding. 
Our knowledge of twofold nature is silent before the 
paradox of the primal mystery. 

The spheres in which the world of relation is built 
are three. 

First, our life with nature, in which the relation 
clings to the threshold of speech. 

Second, oux life with men, in which the relation takes 
on the form of speech. 

Third, our life with intelligible forms, where the relation, 
being without speech, yet begets it. 

In every sphere in its own way, through each process 
of becoming that is present to us, we look out toward 
the fringe of the eternal Thou ; in each we are aware 
of a breath from the eternal Thou ; in each Thou we 
address the eternal Thou. 

Every sphere is compassed in the eternal Thou, 
but it is not compassed in them. 


Through every sphere shines the one present. 

We can, however, remove each sphere from the 

From our life with nature we can lift out the " physi- 
cal " world, the world of consistency, from our life 
with men the " psychical " world, the world of sensibility, 
and from our life with spiritual beings the " noetic " 
world, the world of validity. But now their transparency, 
and with it their meaning, has been taken from them ; 
each sphere has become dull and capable of being used — 
and remains dull even though we light it up with the 
names of Cosmos and Eros and Logos. For actually 
there is a cosmos for man only when the universe becomes 
his home, with its holy hearth whereon he offers sacrifice ; 
there is Eros for man only when beings become for hi™ 
pictures of the eternal, and community is revealed along 
with them ; and there is Logos for man only when he 
addresses the mystery with work and service for the 

Form's silent asking, man's loving speech, the mute 
proclamation of the creature* are all gates leading into 
the presence of the Word. 

But when the full and complete meeting is to take 
place, the gates are united in one gateway of real life, 
and you no longer know through which you have entered. 

Of the three spheres, one, our life with men, is marked 
oub. Here language is consummated as a sequence, 
in speech and counter-speech. Here alone does the word 
that is formed in language meet its response. Only 
here does the primary word go backwards and forwards 


in the same form, the word of address and the word of 
response live in the one language, I and Thou take their 
stand not merely in relation, but also in the solid give- 
and-take of talk. The moments of relation are here, 
and only here, bound together by means of the element 
of the speech in which they are immersed. Here what 
confronts us has blossomed into the full reality of the 
Thou. Here alone, then, as reality that cannot be lost, 
are gazing and being gazed upon, knowing and being 
known, loving and being loved. 

This is the main portal, into whose opening the two 
side-gates lead, and in which they are included. 

" When a man is together with his wife the longing of 
the eternal hills blows round about them." 

The relation with man is the real simile of the relation 
with God ; in it true address receives true response ; 
except that in God's response everything, the universe, 
is made manifest as language. 

— But is not solitude, too, a gate ? Is there not at 
times disclosed, in stillest loneliness, an unsuspected 
perception % Can concern with oneself not mysteriously 
be transformed into concern with the mystery ? Indeed, 
is not that man alone who no longer adheres to any 
being worthy to confront the Being ? " Come, lonely 
One, to him who is alone ", cries Simeon, the new theo- 
logian, to his God. 

— There are two kinds of solitude, according to that 
from which they have turned. If we call it solitude to 
free oneself from intercourse of experiencing and using 
of things, then that is always necessary, in order that 


tlie act of relation, and not that of the supreme relation 
only, may be reached. But if solitude means absence of 
relation, then he who has been forsaken by the beings 
to which he spoke the true Thou will be raised up by God, 
but not he who himself forsook the beings. He alone 
adheres to various ones of these who is greedy to use 
them ; but he who lives in the strength of present realisa- 
tion can only be bound up in relation with them. 
And he alone who is so bound is ready for God. For 
he alone confronts the reality of God with a human 

Further, there are two kinds of solitude, according 
to that towards which they have turned. If solitude 
is the place of purification, necessary even to the man 
who is bound in relation, both before he enters the Holy 
of Holies and in the midst of his ventures between 
unavoidable failing and the ascent to proving true 
— to this solitude wg are by nature disposed. But if 
solitude is the stronghold of isolation, where a man 
conducts a dialogue with himself — not in order to test 
and master himself for that which awaits him but in 
the enjoyment of the conformation of his soul — then 
we have the real fall of the spirit into spirituality. 
The man can advance to the last abyss, where in his 
self-delusion he imagines he has God in himself and is 
speaking with Him. But trxdy though God surrounds 
us and dwells in us, we never have Him in us. And we 
speak with Him only when speech dies within us. 

A modern philosopher supposes that every man 
necessarily believes either in God or in " idols ", that is, 


in some sort of finite good — his nation, his art, power, 
knowledge, the amassing of money, "the ever new 
subjugation of woman " — which has become for him an 
absolute value and has set itself up between him and 
God ; it is only necessary to demonstrate to him the 
conditioned nature of this good, in order to " shatter " 
the idol, and the diverted religious act will automatically 
return to the fitting object. 

This conception presupposes that man's relation to 
the finite goods he has " idolized " is of the same nature 
as his relation to God, and differs only in its object ; 
for only with this presupposition could the mere sub- 
stitution of the true for the false object save the erring 
man. But a man's relation to the " special something " 
that usurps the throne of the supreme value of his life, 
and supplants eternity, rests always on experiencing and 
using an It, a thing, an object of enjoyment. For this 
relation alone is able to obstruct the prospect which 
opens toward God — it is the impenetrable world of It ; 
but the relation which involves the saying of the Thou 
opens up this prospect ever anew. He who is dominated 
by the idol that he wishes to win, to hold, and to keep — 
possessed by a desire for possession — has no way to God 
but that of reversal, which is a change not only of goal 
but also of the nature of his movement. The man who 
is possessed is saved by being wakened and educated to 
solidarity of relation, not by being led in his state of 
possession towards God. If a man remains in this state 
what does it mean when he calls no longer on the name 
of a demon or of a being demonically distorted for him, 
but on the name of God ? It means that from now on 
he blasphemes. It is blasphemy when a man wishes, 


after the idol has crashed behind the altar, to pile up an 
unholy sacrifice to God on the desecrated place. 

He who loves a woman, and brings her life to present 
realisation in his, is able to look in the Thou of her eyes 
into a beam of the eternal Thou. But he who eagerly 
desires " ever new subjugation " — do you wish to hold 
out to his desire a phantom of the Eternal ? He who 
serves his people in the boundlessness of destiny, and 
is willing to give himself to them, is really thinking of 
God. But do you suppose that the man to whom the 
nation is a god, in whose service he would like to enlist 
everything (for in the nation's he exalts his own image), 
need only be given a feeling of disgust — and he would 
see the truth ? And what does it mean that a man is 
said to treat money, embodied non-being, " as if 
it were God " ? What has the lust of grabbing and 
of laying up treasure in common with the joy in the 
presence of the Present One ? Can the servant "of 
Mammon say Thou to his money ? And how is he to 
behave towards God when he does not understand how 
to say Thou ? He cannot serve two masters — not even 
one after the other : he must first learn to serve in a 
different way. 

He who has been converted by this substitution of 
object now " holds " a phantom that he calls God. 
But God, the eternal Presence, does not permit Himself 
to be held. Woe to the man so possessed that he thinks 
he possesses God ! 

The " religious " man is spoken of as one who does 
not need to take his stand in any relation to the world 


and to living beings, since the status of social life, that 
is defined from outside, is in him surpassed by means 
of a strength that works only from within. But in 
this idea of the social life two basically different things 
are combined — first, the community that is built up out 
of relation, and second, the collection of human units 
that do not know relation — modern man's palpable 
condition of lack of relation. But the bright building 
of community, to which there is an escape even from 
the dungeon of " social life ", is the achievement of the 
same power that works in the relation between man and 
God* This does not mean that this one relation is set 
beside the others ; for it is the -universal relation, into 
which all streams pour, yet without* exhausting their 
waters. Who wishes to make division £nd define 
boundaries between sea and streams ? There we find 
only the one flow from I to Thou, unending, the one 
boundless flow of the real life. Life cannot be divided 
between a real relation with God and an unreal relation 
of I and It with the world — you cannot both truly pray 
to God and profit by the world. He who knows the 
world as something by which he is to profit knows God 
also in the same way. His prayer is 'a procedure of 
exoneration heard by the ear of the void. He — not the 
" atheist," who addresses the Nameless out of the 
night and yearning of his garret-window — is the godless 

It is further said that the " religious " man stands 
as a single, isolated, separated being before God, since 
he has also gone beyond the status of the " moral " 
man, who is still involved in duty and obligation 
to the world. The latter, it is said, is still burdened 


with responsibility for the action of those who act, since 
he is wholly defined by the tension between being and 
** ought to be **, and in grotesque and hopeless sacrificial 
courage casts his heart piece by piece into the in- 
satiable gulf that lies between them. The "religious " 
man, on the other hand, has emerged from that tension 
into the tension between the world and God ; there the 
command reigns that the unrest of responsibility and of 
demands on oneself be removed ; there is no willing of 
one's own, but only the being joined into what 
is ordained ; every " ought " vanishes in uncon- 
ditioned being, and the world, though still existing, 
no longer counts. For in it the " religious " man has 
to perform his particular duties, but as it were without 
obligation — beneath the aspect of the nothingness of all 
action. But that is to suppose that God has created 
His world as an illusion and man for frenzied being. He 
who approaches the Face has indeed surpassed duty 
and obligation — but not because he is now remote from 
the world ; rather because he has truly drawn closer 
to it. Duty and obligation are rendered only to the 
stranger ; we are drawn to and full of love for the 
intimate person. The world, lit by eternity, becomes 
folly present to him who approaches the Face, and to 
the Being of beings he can in a single response say 
Thou. Then there is no more tension between the 
world and God, but only the one reality. The man is 
not freed from responsibility ; he has exchanged the 
torment of the finite, pursuit of effects, for the motive 
power of the infinite, he has got the mighty responsi- 
bility of love for the whole untraceable world-event, for 
the profound belonging to the world before the Face of 

God. He has, to be sure, . abolished moral judgments 
for ever ; the " evil " man is simply one who is com- 
mended to him for greater responsibility, one more 
needy of love ; but he will have to practise, till death 
itself, decision in the depths of spontaneity, unruffled 
decision, made ever anew, to right action. Then action 
is not empty, but purposive, enjoined, needed, part 
of creation ; but this action is no longer imposed upon 
the world, it grows on it as if it were non-action. 

What is the eternal, primal phenomenon, present 
here and now, of that which we term revelation ? It 
is the phenomenon that a man does not pass, from the 
moment of the supreme meeting, the same being as he 
entered into it. The moment of meeting is not an 
" experience " that stirs in the receptive soul and grows 
to perfect blessedness ; rather, in that moment some- 
thing happens to the man. At times it is like a light 
breath, at times like a wrestling-bout, but always — it 
happens, the man who emerges from the act of pure 
relation that so involves his being has now in his being 
something more that has grown in him, of which he did 
not know before and whose origin he is not rightly able 
to indicate. However the source of this new thing is 
classified in scientific orientation of the world, with its 
authorised efforts to establish an unbroken causality, we, 
whose concern is real consideration of the real, cannot 
have our purpose served with subconsciousness or any 
other apparatus of the soul. The reality is that we 
receive what we did not hitherto have, and receive it in 
such a way that we know it has been given to us. In 


the language of the Bible, " Those who wait upon the 
Lord shall renew their strength ". In the language of 
Nietzsche, who in his account remains loyal to 
reality, " We take and do not ask who it is there that 

Man receives, and he receives not a specific " content " 
but a Presence, a Presence as power. This Presence 
and this power include three things, undivided, yet 
in such a way that we may consider them separately. 
First, there is the whole fulness of real mutual action, of 
the being raised and bound up in relation : the man can 
give no account at all of how the binding in relation 
is brought about, nor does it in any way lighten his life 
— it makes life heavier, but heavy with meaning. 
Secondly, there is the inexpressible confirmation of 
meaning. Meaning is assured. Nothing can any 
longer be meaningless. The question about the mean- 
ing of life is no longer there. But were it there, it would 
not have to be answered. You do not know how to 
exhibit and define the meaning of life, you have no 
formula or picture for it, and yet it has more certitude 
for you than the perceptions of your senses. What 
does the revealed and concealed meaning purpose with 
us, desire from us ? It does not wish to be explained 
(nor are we able to do that) but only to be done by us. 
Thirdly, this meaning is not that of " another life ", but 
that of this life of ours, not one of a world " yonder " 
but that of this world of oiirs, and it desires its con- 
firmation in this life and in relation with this world. 
This meaning can be received, but not experienced ; 
it cannot be experienced but it can be done, and this is 
its purpose with us. The assurance I have of it does 


not wish to be sealed within me, but it wishes to be 
born by me into the world. But just as the meaning 
itself does not permit itself to be transmitted and made^ 
into knowledge generally current and admissible, so 
confirmation of it cannot be transmitted as a valid 
Ought ; it is not prescribed, it is not specified on any 
tablet, to be raised above all men's heads. The 
meaning that has been received can be proved true by 
each man only in the singleness of his being and the 
singleness of his life. As no prescription can lead us 
to the meeting, so none leads from it. As only accept- 
ance of the Presence is necessary for the approach to 
the meeting, so in a new sense is it so when we emerge 
from it. As we reach the meeting with the simple 
Thou on our lips, so with the Thou on our lips we leave 
it and return to the world. 

That before which, in which, out of which, and into 
which we live, even the mystery, has remained what it 
was. It has become pfesent to us and in its present- 
ness has proclaimed itself to us as salvation ; we have 
" known " it, but we acquire no knowledge from it 
which might lessen or moderate its mysteriousness. We 
have come near to God, but not nearer to unveiling being 
or solving its riddle. We have felt release, but not 
discovered a " solution ". We cannot approach others 
with what we have received, and say " You must 
know this, you must do this ". We can only go, and 
confirm its truth. And this, too, is no " ought ", but we 
can, we must. 

This is the eternal revelation that is present here and 
now. I know of no revelation and believe in none 
whose primal phenomenon is not precisely this. I do 


not believe in a self-naming of God, a self-definition of God 
before men. The Word of revelation is I am that I am. 
That which reveals is that which reveals. That which 
is is, and nothing more. The eternal source of strength 
streams, the eternal contact persists, the eternal voice 
sounds forth, and nothing more. 

The eternal Thou can by its nature not become It ; 
for by its nature it cannot be established in measure 
and bounds, not even in the measure of the immeasur- 
able, or the bounds of boundless being ; for by its nature 
it cannot be understood as a sum of qualities, not even 
as an infinite sum of qualities raised to a transcendental 
level ; for it can be found neither in nor out of the 
world; for it cannot be experienced, or thought; 
for we miss Him, Him who is, if we say " I believe that 
He is " — " He " is also a metaphor, but " Thou " is not. 

And yet in accordance with our nature we are continu- 
ally making the eternal Thou into It, into some thing — 
making God into a thing. Not indeed out of arbitrary 
self-will ; God's history as a thing, the passage of God 
as Thing through religion and through the products on its 
brink, through its bright ways and its gloom, its enhance- 
ment and its destruction of life, the passage away from 
the living God and back again to Him, the changes 
from the present to establishment of form, of objects, 
and of ideas, dissolution and renewal — all are one way, 
are the way. 

What is the origin of the expressed knowledge and 
ordered action of the religions ? How do the Presence 
and the power of the revelation (for all religions necess- 


arily appeal to some kind of revelation, whether through 
the medium of the spoken word, or of nature, or of 
the soul : there are only religions of revelation) — how 
do the Presence and the power received by men in 
revelation change into a " content " % 

The explanation has two layers. We understand the 
outer psychical layer when we consider man in himself, 
separated from history, and the inner factual layer, the 
primal phenomenon of religion, when we replace him in 
history. The two layers belong together. 

Man desires to possess God ; he desires a continuity 
in space and time of possession of God. He is not content 
with the inexpressible confirmation of meaning, but 
wants to see this confirmation stretched out as some- 
thing that can be continually taken up and handled, 
a continuum unbroken in space and time that insures 
his life at every point and every moment. 

Man's thirst for continuity is unsatisfied by the life- 
rhythm of pure relation, the interchange - of actual 
being and of a potential being in which only our power 
to enter into relation, and hence the. presentness (but 
not the primal Presence) decreases. He longs for exten- 
sion in time, for duration. Thus God becomes an object 
of faith. At first faith, set in time, completes the acts 
of relation \ but gradually it replaces them. Resting in 
belief in an It takes the place of the continually renewed 
movement of the being towards concentration and 
going out to the relation. The " Nevertheless I believe " 
of the fighter who knows remoteness from as well as 
nearness to God is more and more completely trans- 
formed into the certainty of him who enjoys profits, 
that nothing can happen to him, since he believes 
i 113 

that there is One who will not let anything happen to 

Further, man's thirst for continuity is unsatisfied 
by the life-structure of pure relation, the " solitude " of 
the I before the Thou, the law that man, though binding 
up the world in relation in the meeting, can nevertheless 
only as a person approach and meet God. He longs 
for extension in space, for the representation in which 
the community of the faithful is united with its God. 
Thus God becomes the object of a cult. The cult, too, 
completes at first the acts of relation, in adjusting in 
a spatial context of great formative power the living 
prayer, the immediate saying of the Thou, and in linking 
, it with the life of the senses. It, too, gradually replaces 
the acts of relation, when the personal prayer is no longer 
supported, but displaced, by the communal prayer, 
and when the act of the being, since it admits no rule, is 
replaced by ordered devotional exercises. 

Actually, however, pure relation can only be raised 
to constancy in space and time by being embodied in 
the whole stuff of life. It cannot be preserved, but only 
proved true, only done, only done up into life. Man can 
do justice to the relation with God in which he has come to 
share only if he realises God anew in the world according 
to hi* strength and to the measure of each day. In 
this lies the only authentic assurance of continuity. 
The authentic assurance of duration consists in the 
fact that pure relation can be fulfilled in the growth and 
rise of beings into Thou, that the holy primary word 
makes itself heard in them all. Thus the time of human 
life is shaped into a fulness of reality, and even though 
human life neither can nor ought to overcome the 


relation of It, it is so penetrated with relation that 
relation wins in it a shining streaming constancy ; 
the moments of supreme meeting are then not flashes 
in darkness but like the rising moon in a clear starlit 
night. Thus, too, the authentic assurance of constancy 
in space consists in the fact that men's relations with 
their true Thou, the radial lines that proceed from all 
the points of the I to the Centre, form a circle. It is 
not the periphery, the community, that comes first, 
but the radii, the common quality of relation with the 
Centre. This alone guarantees the authentic existence 
of the community. 

Only when these two arise — the binding up of time in 
a relational life of salvation and the binding up of 
space in the community that is made one by its Centre — 
and only so long as they exist, does there arise and exist, 
round about the invisible altar, a human cosmos with 
bounds and form, grasped with the spirit out of the 
universal stuff of the seon, a world that is house and home, 
a dwelling for man in the universe. 

Meeting with God does not come to man in order that he 
may concern himself with God, but in order that he may 
confirm that there is meaning in the world. All revelation 
is summons and sending. But again and again man brings 
about, instead of realisation, a reflexion to Him who 
reveals : he wishes to concern himself with God instead 
of with the world. Only, in such a reflexion, he is no 
longer confronted by a Thou, he can do nothing but 
establish an It-God in the realm of things, believe that 
he knows of God as of an It, and so speak about Him. 
Just as the " self "-seeking man, instead of directly living 
something or other, a perception or an affection, reflects 


about his perceptive or reflective Z, and thereby misses 
the truth of the event, so the man who seeks God 
(though for the rest he gets on very well with the self- 
seeker in the one soul), instead of allowing the gift 
to work itself out, reflects about the Giver — and misses 

God remains present to you when you have been sent 
forth ; he who goes on a mission has always God before 
him : the truer the fulfilment the stronger and more 
constant His nearness. To be sure, he cannot directly 
concern himself with God, but he can converse with Him. 
Reflexion, on the other hand, makes God into an object. 
Its apparent turning towards the primal source belongs 
in truth to the universal movement away from it ; just 
as the apparent turning away of the man who is fulfilling 
his mission belongs in truth to the universal movement 
towards the primal source. 

For the two primary metacosmical movements of 
the world — expansion into its own being and reversal 
to connexion — find their supreme human form, the 
. real spiritual form of their struggle and adjust- 
ment, their mingling and separation, in the history of 
the human relation to God. In reversal the Word is 
born on earth, in expansion the Word enters the chrysalis 
form of religion, in fresh reversal it is born again with 
new wings. 

Arbitrary self-will does not reign here, even though 
the movement towards the It goes at times so far that 
it threatens to suppress and to smother the movement 
out again to the Thou. 

The mighty revelations to which the religions appeal 
are like in being with the quiet revelations that are to 


be found everywhere and at all times. The mighty 
revelations which stand at the beginning of great com- 
munities and at the turning-point of an age are nothing 
but the eternal revelation. But the revelation does not 
pour itself into the world through him who receives it 
ag through a funnel; it comes to him and seizes his 
whole elemental being in all its particular nature, and 
fuses with it. The man,, too, who is the " mouth " of 
the revelation, is indeed this, not a speaking-tube or 
any kind of instrument, but an organ, which sounds 
according to its own laws ; and to sound means to modify. 

The various ages of history, however, show a quali- 
tative difference. There is a time of maturing, when the 
true element of the human spirit, suppressed and buried, 
comes to hidden readiness so urgent and so tense that 
it awaits only a touch from Him who touches in order 
to burst forth. The revelation that then makes its 
appearance seizes in the totality of its constitution 
the whole elemental stuff that is thus prepared, melts 
it down, and produces in it a form that is a new form 
of God in the world. 

Thus in the course of history, in the transforming of 
elemental human stuff, ever new provinces of the world 
and the spirit are raised to form, summoned to divine 
form. Ever new spheres become regions of a theophany . 
It is not mail's own power that works here, nor is it 
God's pure effective passage, but it is a mixture of the 
divine and the human. He who is sent out in the 
strength of revelation takes with him, in his eyes, an 
image of God ; however far this exceeds the senses, yet 
he takes it with him in the eye of the spirit, in that 
visual power of his spirit which is not metaphorical 


but wholly real. The spirit responds also through a 
look, a look that is formative. Although we earthly 
beings never look at God without the world, but only 
look at the world in God, yet as we look we shape 
eternally the form of God. 

Form is also a mixture of Thou and It. In belief 
and in a cult form can harden into an object ; but, in 
virtue of the essential quality of relation that lives on 
in it, it continually becomes present again. God is near 
His forms so long as man does not remove them from 
Him. In true prayer belief and cult are united and 
purified to enter into the living relation. The fact that 
true prayer lives in the religions witnesses to their true 
life": they live so long as it lives in them. Degeneration 
of the religions means degeneration of prayer in them. 
Their power to enter into relation is buried under 
increasing objectification, it becomes increasingly 
difficult for them to say Thm with the whole undivided 
being, and finally, in order to be able to say it, man 
must come out of the false security into the venture of 
the infinite — out of the community, that is now over- 
arched only by the temple dome and not also by the 
firmament, into the final solitude. It is a profound 
misunderstanding of this impulse to ascribe it to " sub- 
jectivism " ; life face to face with God is life in the one 
•reality, the only true "objective", and the man who 
goes out to this life desires to save himself, in the 
objective that truly is, from that which is apparent 
and illusory, before it has disturbed the truth of the 
real objective for him. Subjectivism empties God of 
soul, objectivism makes Him into an object— the latter 
is a false fixing down, the former a false setting free ; 


both are diversions from the way of reality, both are 
attempts to replace reality, 

God is near His forms if man does not remove them 
from Him. But when the expanding movement of 
religion suppresses the movement of reversal and 
removes the form from God, the countenance of the 
form is obliterated, its lips are dead, its hands hang 
down, God knows it no more, and the universal dwelling- 
place that is built about its altar, the spiritually appre- 
hended cosmos, tumbles in. And the fact that man, 
in the disturbance of his truth, no longer sees what is 
then taking place, is a part of what has then taken 

Disintegration of the Word has taken place. 

The Word has its essence in revelation, its effect in 
the life of the form, its currency during the domination 
of the form that has died* 

This is the course and the counter-course of the 
eternal and eternally present Word in history. 

The times in which the living Word appears are 
those in which the solidarity of connexion between i" 
and the world is renewed ; the times in which the 
effective Word reigns are those in which the agreement 
between I and the world are maintained ; the times in 
which the Word becomes current are those in which 
alienation between I and the world, logs of reality, 
growth of fate, is completed — till there comes the great 
shudder, the holding of the breath in the dark, and the 
preparing silence. 

But this course is not circular. It is the way. In 
each new aeon fate becomes more oppressive, reversal 
more shattering. And the theophany becomes ever 


nearer, increasingly near to the sphere that lies between 
beings, to the Kingdom that is hidden in our midst, 
there between us. History is a mysterious approach. 
Every spiral of its way leads us both into profounder 
perversion and more fundamental reversal. But the 
event that from the side of the world is called reversal 
is called from God's side salvation.